I walked out of the El Capitan Restaurant a few days ago after eating breakfast with my brother. Our town plays music downtown with speakers on the streetlamp poles. I had remarked just a few days prior that the music seemed to be aimed at me in particular in that the music that was playing whenever we exited the building seemed to be specifically tailored from the playlist of my life. I've always had an eclectic tastes in music and have eschewed for the most part anything that people would regard as popular. In the last month or so, I've heard songs like Souvenirs by John Prine, Atlantic City by The Band, "Your Cheating Heart'; by Hank Williams and on that day the song Easy Rider by Iron Butterfly. These songs, with the exception of the William's tune, weren't ever played on mainstream radio. Sometimes, I can't help feeling that the universe is messing with me. This is principally because the things happening in the world outside the windows of the restaurant are also pretty surreal.
The lady who I had had written about earlier for exposing herself right there on main street, who sleeps on a narrow piece of grass between the parking lot and the sidewalk, is back to her old tricks and spends her day pacing back and forth on the sidewalk often hurling expletives at some unseen protagonist. The greatest Shakespearean actor ever couldn't deliver a soliloquy as intensely passionate as she does on daily basis for free, and what she says is every bit as meaningful as the existential realities that lay behind Hamlet's favorite question.
After such an auspicious beginning to my day, I really don't understand why I went to watch John Wick: Chapter 4. In my current mental/emotional state it was not something I should have done. As someone who has openly wrestled with issues of spirituality his whole life, I should have known better. There is way too much death involved in a John Wick movie. The fact that I could predict the mass killing involved is a part of the problem. John Wick is an avenging angel of death, and even as a fictional character, possesses an energy that people really should try to avoid.
Years ago, I stopped reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in the middle of the book because of how depressed it made me feel. More recently, I quit watching The Game of Thrones because I wanted one of the characters to die so badly that it became a palpable feeling and led to thoughts on how to best kill him. I didn't want to feel that way. I don't want to think about killing anyone, even imaginary characters no matter how deserving. I should have known that any series that would kill off the Sean Bean character so early in the story would not be something I should have been watching in the first place.
There was something interesting in the first movie of the John Wicks series. The idea of a grieving widower being forced into unbelievable acts of violence because of the selfish actions of a narcissistic young thug who kills the widower's innocent dog is very compelling and capable of completely capturing the audience's desire for justice. It was made even more compelling by the father of the young thug being forced by his sense of filial loyalty into actions to protect his son against Wick's vengeful wrath. However, right from the beginning, the audience was asked to ignore everything had happened prior to the movie's narrative beginning. John Wicks was an hired assassin; the father a crime boss who had raised the feckless son. So, on a deep and important level, that overwhelming desire to see the revenge narrative play out is placed on a much shakier ground and should have made it a lot harder to defend the giving in to the urge to see how the story played out. Then, when we arrive at the supposed last chapter of the series, it becomes, despite the grandiose beauty of the settings, a macabre ballet of death and destruction. It should a lot harder to justify to oneself why one would want to consume that much death and violence at a single sitting. The whole thing becomes more than a little bit reminiscent of attending the Roman Games back when people sat in the stands and watched people being butchered while they munched on peacock tongues on a stick and waved big foam rubber hands to denote who should die and who should live. And while I would definitely prefer playing cards with John Wick than Javier Bardem's character in No Country for Old Man, Wick does make that dude look like an inept Boy Scout when it comes to the taking of human life. A lot of critics believe that Bardem's character was supposed to be a symbol for death itself. If so, what does that make John Wick?
I got up to go to the restroom three times in the movie (courtesy of a 32 oz. Pepsi Zero). Each time, I left at the beginning of a fight scene, I took my time, didn't hurry, and when I returned, the fight scenes were still in mid sequence. I've read that lot of critics felt that the actions scenes were true masterpieces of the genre. No, they were actually quite boring, and at times even pretty fucking silly. I mean how many times can someone shoot at a person point blank and miss by a mile, and then there was that effort to convince us that Wick's perfectly fitted jacket was made of bullet proof material and all he had to do was hold up the lapel and it would repel a bazooka round fired six inches from his face. I kept half expecting for the Road Runner to come bounding through the Arch de Triumph and scooping Wick off the pavement and saying Beep! Beep! to his assailants before disappearing into the Paris night. It was so ridiculous that you could even envision the extras being killed off and then running in a crouch behind the cameras so that they could be killed a second or even third time in the same action sequence. I'm not sure how many human beings John Wick killed by the end of the fourth movie but I'm pretty sure that he has now surpassed Joseph Stalin and is pretty close to breaking the record set by Chairman Mao (I know theirs were real and his were reel, but figuratively, I'm trying to make a point here).
The thing is it could have been a much better (and shorter) movie if they had just toned down the violence by about 99%, and used the traditional elements of fiction to create narrative tension and empathy for the main character's plight. I read a story about Charles Manson once in the desert, the cult leader and some of his minions went to an old prospector's cabin in the middle of the night to retrieve a couple of his wayward followers. Some witness said, Manson and his devotees climbed over walls and then crawled on their hands and knees toward the cabin where Charlie and the prospector engaged in a prolonged, silent battle of wills that was broken only when Charlie looked away and his followers slunk, crawled away in defeat. Not a single person was killed, nothing important was even said, yet compare the dramatic tension of that scene, however true, to the entire carnage unleashed in the Wick's series. I wish that someone would have told that story at a creative meeting where the details of this movie were being discussed over wine and cheese, and then one of them would have slapped his/her head and exclaimed, "Damn, we've been going about this all wrong!"
Then there's the question of do we humans, in these troubled and confusing times, need to be witnessing so much death, violence and destruction at a single sitting. I've read that the ancient Greeks felt that watching the Tragedies on the stage enabled the theater-goer to wrestle with the reality of death without getting blood and gore on their clothing, a way of saying in effect that I'm not afraid of that Javier Bardem dude and thumbing their nose at death itself. They used tragic heroes to convey meaning and did not depend upon the anti-heroes that are so prevalent in culture today. I wonder what they would make of these movies and our society's exploitation of our desire to see witness such overwhelming carnage and destruction. Would they think that we were motivated by a sense of shame for even existing? What would they think about profiting from it?
I read on Rotten Tomatoes that the movie was judged as 96% fresh by both the professional critics and the verified audience. That judgment is so far off base that I have to wonder if those reviews were really being written by AI and weren't coming from genuine human beings, and if even if that weren't the case, I'd still have to wonder. But, that's just me.
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