Spin-Off: In The End, John Wick Was Always About Love

In this column, Gayle Sequeira discusses themes, trends and trivial bits of information she's fixated on from fantasy and pop culture
Spin-Off: In The End, John Wick Was Always About Love


Towards the end of John Wick: Chapter 4, titular hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and the man he’s meant to duel to the death the next day sit beside each other at a church, the warm glow of a hundred blazing candles enveloping them. “I've missed you,” says the assassin, Caine (Donnie Yen), an incongruous sentiment to express for an opponent, but he and John have been pals for years, reunited in the tragic knowledge that one of them must now die. As the candles burn, it presents an evocative image — when the world is on fire, all that’s left to do is find a friend to spend your last moments with.

Love has always girded the John Wick franchise, in which the life of an assassin-turned-family-man loses meaning with the death of his wife, her last gift of a puppy gives it purpose again, and the loss of that puppy sparks his quest for revenge. John’s insistence on clinging to life — no matter how many he has to kill to do it — is so that he can keep his wife alive in his memory. After all, his death would mean that of the last person to know her. What’s left unexplored however, is whether, in choosing to continue along his chosen path, Wick has embraced the kind of life his late wife would be proud of. The answer is most certainly no, but it’s not a question that seems to have occurred to him.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his late wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan).
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his late wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan).

More weapon than man at this point, his killer instinct as sharp as a knife’s edge, but any notions that his last tethers to humanity have snapped are rebuffed every time he speaks of his friends, of his wife, of his family, all with the stubbornness of someone who’s sure he’ll return to his new life even whilst knee deep in the blood of the old one. Chapter 4 even begins with him attempting to undo one of his last acts in the previous movie and get back the wedding ring he gave away to the Elder (George Georgiou). The significance of such tokens harks back to the first movie, in which Wick keeps his wife’s bracelet and his puppy’s collar on his nightstand, symbols of a man who just can’t let go. Unlike the Bond franchise, John Wick does not deal with the death of a love interest by giving its hero another. Throughout its four movies, there’s not a single other woman that Wick expresses romantic interest in.

Variations of “love” and “friend” recur across the franchise’s scripts, but more than the dialogue, these sentiments are expressed through action. If Wick survives the first film, it’s only because the love of a watchful friend and fellow assassin, Marcus (Willem Dafoe) who opts to protect rather than persecute him. This, despite the large bounty on Wick’s head and the painful death Marcus suffers for his disobedience. Sofia Al-Azwar (Halle Berry) is bound by a blood oath to help Wick because she owes him, sure, but that debt too is predicated on the love of a daughter. Consider how Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) weeps as he thinks about the fate that's about to befall his son. Even throwaway moments, such as one in which Wick inquires about a bouncer’s weight loss before they scuffle, reveal a camaraderie among this secret community, in a break from the tradition of lone-wolf assassins. For all his unknowability, Chapter 4 underlines that the one predictable aspect of Wick’s life are his friends, the only certainty is that he will unfailingly turn to them for refuge. “Wick has so many friends in this world because, at the end of the day, he’s inherently a good man,” screenwriter Michael Finch told the New York Times.

 John Wick is also a franchise about family, and all the ways in which we miss, mourn and choose to massacre ours. For every Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who orders a hit on his sister so that he can nab her place at the High Table, there’s a Winston (Ian McShane), a Charon (Lance Reddick), a Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), people willing to risk everything to keep Wick safe.

Spin-Off: In The End, John Wick Was Always About Love
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In Chapter 4, the only word Winston has engraved on Charon’s gravestone, after much deliberation, is “friend”. “Above all, that’s what he was,” he explains. Wick wants his own epitaph to read: Loving Husband. The franchise begins with, and — towards the end — hinges a pivotal moment around the love of a dog. It doesn’t matter that Caine and Wick have never met before this film, or that their friendship has never been alluded to. Every dialogue between them is burdened by the weight of, or enlivened by the tenderness of their shared history. 

When the duel begins, they graze each other’s shoulders at first, unwilling to seriously harm each other. When Wick eventually does succumb to his wounds, his last thought is that of his wife’s smiling face. He’s comforted in the knowledge that Caine is safe, as is Winston, and the woman he sought freedom from the criminal underworld for in the first place is the woman he’s about to be reunited with now that he’s free again. Wick has been a boogeyman, the Baba Yaga, an enigmatic cypher in the vein of so many cinematic assassins that came before him, but most of all, the franchise points out, he’s simply a man who loved, and was loved in return. 

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