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Is John Wick The Modern Achilles? – Op-Ed Piece

 

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Introduction

Hey readers,

We got a poem by Raymond Carver and a theory concerning a popular ancient character and a popular modern character. They are Achilles and John Wick. The title of the piece gave that away.

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Short Poem


Late Fragment by Raymond Carver


And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.


 
 

Is John Wick The Modern Achilles? – Op-Ed Piece


The reluctant hero is one of the most used tropes in all of storytelling. He is the hero that doesn’t really want to be a hero. He doesn’t want to fight in the war or kill his enemies. The slogan for the reluctant hero is quite simple, “Leave me alone.” He isn’t interested in the world and madness around him and is not going to pick sides in the ongoing conflict that seems to have no end. He is staying out of it all. All the brutal violence, all the repeated murder, all the sickness of the two sides; the reluctant hero would rather have nothing to do with any of it. You can even say that when we first meet this hero, he is not admirable, for his apathy can come across as out of place. How can he not want to be involved in a major fight? He feels no obligation to pick up a gun, or defend the walls, or do anything? He’d rather walk away and be left alone. What type of hero is that? (That is a rhetorical question) Now, there is a reason that many in the story of this hero seek him out despite his indifference and, some would say, cowardness towards his surroundings; he is good. Okay, he isn’t good, not even great. He is the best there is fighting and killing his enemies. And when you are at war, you want all the talent that you can get, so getting him to fight for you would be a major advantage. Many times there is a scene with the reluctant hero where he has to be persuaded to fight by someone, and in this scene, we are told that the reluctant is the best but is not interested in the fighting. There is a uniqueness to this character that makes him so timeless with audiences, and it is why you see this type of person reincarnated in many stories, and you will see for generations to come. We like that he doesn’t want to fight. It is noble for him to want nothing to do with the war he is living. He isn’t seeking power or is out for himself. He simply is dragged into the conflict because of a cruel twist of fate. So even though his actions won’t be nice from that point on in the story (remember he is joining a war), we admire that he is doing it only because he has to.

From my understanding, the first reluctant character in all of storytelling is none other than Achilles of Homer’s Iliad. That is how far back this type of hero goes in the art of storytelling. One of the very first characters in popular literature was this kind of hero. No wonder he is used so much in stories. The key thing about Achilles is that he wants nothing to do with the most important war of his time. That is the Trojan War, a war that many scholars don’t know even know was real or not, but for our sake, you don’t need to know that. It is the war that gave us the Trojan horse, either one of the greatest military strategies or one of the greatest stories of all time. Possibly both. Achilles is also the son of a god and goddess. Their names are Peleus and Thetis, which I am sure you are not familiar with, but then you should know that Peleus was the grandson of Zeus. Yeah, thunder throwing, impregnating women as an animal Zeus. Achilles got his god-like strength, so you could see why he was the most powerful warrior of his day.

There is one main thing to his character, not his power, but his reluctance to take any action. That is what defines Achilles. He isn’t jumping up and down, ready to fight whoever comes his way. Only when he has to does he turn on his switch and go crazy on everyone. If he was playing video games, he’d be the guy that takes on the whole other team by himself and wins the game easily. He is so good; it is kind of unfair. Everyone playing against the guy looks at him and says, “Really, dude? You didn’t even die once? And you killed everyone on our team ten times. This was not fun.” Next time you get a killing spree when you play Call of Duty, just remember that Achilles invented the term. Although he didn’t have a soldier voiceover call in a helicopter when he got his kills, so you got him there. And if you don’t play video games and have no clue of what I just referenced, just know that Achilles killed a bunch of people when the time called.

Now, who would Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, be in our modern stories today? Is there a character that acts like him? What would happen if we gave Achilles, say, a gun? If we make him not a guy who wears the armor of an ancient soldier but the clothes of a modern person? I say he’d become a certain movie character played by Keanu Reeves. No, not Neo.

Achilles shares strikingly similar character traits as John Wick.

  • They both are reluctant heroes.

  • They both don’t want to fight.

  • They both are dragged into battle.

  • Once they are in the battle, they cause mayhem.

  • They are the best there is at killing people.

  • Neither officially have a killing spree announcer call out the number of kills they get during battle, but if they did, they’d break the game.

Yes, I acknowledge that the minor details to each are different, but the main points are shockingly there.

If you told the audience that John Wick was a descendant of a god, I don’t know how many people would disagree with that.

“Hey, yeah, so… I was watching John Wick. And I think he is a descendant of a god.” You say because you are an astute viewer like that.

“You mean Jesus? You think he is related to Jesus?” Your friend says.

“No. Like those Greek gods, like Zeus and Hercules.”

“Oh, yeah. I could see that. He never really dies. Although is Keanu Reeves Greek? Don’t you have to be Greek to be a Greek God?”

Neither of you mentions Achilles because, in school, you were taught Beowulf instead of The Iliad.

Now, today we don’t say that about characters, meaning we don’t mention characters being god-like. We don’t use lineage and shared bloodlines with gods since we live in a Christian world, so that is out the window. Believe it or not, there was once a time when leaders wanted to show they were related to characters from The Iliad. Alexander The Great said he was related to Achilles, and Hercules, because being related to one immortal guy is not enough when you are great, I guess. Julius Caesar claimed to be from the god Iulus. It sounds weird today to say such a thing of someone now, but that was a thing once. So when Achilles claims to be from a god, it actually meant something to his peers.

Here is what two of his peers would have said,

“Hey, did you know that Achilles was from a god? I hear he has the power of Zeus.”

“Oh shit! I am not fighting that guy! He is going to kill me!”

If John Wick said that he had the strength of a god running their his veins, the audience would probably not laugh but passively accept the novel, yet old idea, because we all like Keanu Reeves that much that some of us wouldn’t think it weird. As for the rest of the characters in Wick’s world, they would laugh at him. There is only one God, so how can you claim to be from a god. Unless you are saying that you are related to Jesus, which can’t happen, and then there would be a few atheists in the group who would laugh at the very notion of any god. What are you going to say to your peers if you are Wick, that you were related to Apollos or Zeus? That sounds ridiculous. Good luck with going all Da Vinci Code on people, too, letting them know that you are actually related to Jesus. Yeah, you’ll lose people before you even finish the thought.

I say all that about our modern perspective of gods because, in his world, John Wick will not claim any divinity. We will only give him descriptions that emphasize his greatness. I personally say that he is a badass or a one-man army, and if you watched the movies, you probably have a similar description. If I were around when Achilles was around being dipped in a river and looking like Brad Pitt (or is that the other way around?), I would have said the same thing of him, plus he is a son of a god.


Both characters kill enemies so easily that you can’t help but think that perhaps there is some divine power looking over them. Maybe they are special because they are taking out an entire army easier than most of us go shopping. That’s not right. Are we really going to call that training? Hard work? Pure talent? A lot of people train to kill. Not everyone is a one-man army. A lot of people work hard, but not many make it look as easy as those two. A lot of people have talent, but how many have a talent for that specific skill of warfare? The question of “Why are they so good?” after a while can only either be ignored, explained in a bizarre and complex scientific equation, or with the simple choice of their own divinity. They are that good because they have gifts that only those who are not human can have. In a story, this option is preferable, in my opinion, over the scientific one because it is easy to say, and I would be able to be more poetic with it, rather than giving my audience an equation and numbers. Could Homer have given us a more statistical approach to Achilles and said that it was not divinity but scientific factors that contributed to his greatness? I mean, sure, he could have, but who the hell wants to hear about that? Saying that the guy came from gods is a better choice.

What will the writers of John Wick do with his character for that option? I don’t know. You can’t say he is from a god, for reasons I already mentioned, and you are still stuck explaining how one man, who is almost disinterested in the violence, is the most dangerous man on the planet with a gun. Can they ignore the question? Eh, for a while, but even that will get old, and fans will want to know what the hell is going on with their hero. As a fan of the series, I am interested in what they are going to do there because there should be a reason for his effective killing methods. I predict they say some bullshit about his chemical makeup and his mental state as being peak condition to make him as he is. That is the modern way of saying that someone is a descendant of a god, without actually using the word god and remaining secular.

Homer avoided using science to explain his reluctant character and chose to include the mythology of his time, Greek, to justify the character’s greatness, whereas writers today avoid using the mythology of our time, Christianity, to explain their reluctant character’s unusual ability and choose to include science instead. They are both answering the same question in different ways.

I prefer Homer’s approach since mythology adds mystery to the character. We are not sure if they are related to the god or not. We are left to decide for ourselves. Giving the modern approach of a scientist explaining to the character why they are special is fine and all, but it leaves nothing to my imagination.

Now for the next major question; does this mean that John Wick’s life will mirror that of Achilles? In that, he will die young, but live on in the hearts of the people? Well, Achilles has something that John Wick doesn’t have; a vulnerable spot that can be used to characterize him to future generations. I am obviously talking about his heel, or more popularly known as his Achilles Heel. If John Wick dies, he may die heroically like Achilles, but if he doesn’t have a relatable story to his death, then the audience will not remember him as well as we do Achilles. I guess that is what I expect from the next movie. John Wick needs a weakness. I don’t remember him getting one in the movies so far (I could be wrong here, but I don’t think so). If I was writing one, I’d figure out a way to kill Wick in the same way Achilles died.

In a modern context, the writers of John Wick need to give him his own kryptonite, which is like an Achilles Heel in that you don’t need to understand the context of the character to know its meaning. The kryptonite is the one flaw of Superman, an otherwise invulnerable being, and one that is not like Achilles since he never goes on a killing spree. For a second, I wanted to say that Superman is the modern Achilles, but Supes never goes around a battlefield killing everyone he sees. It is not very Superman-like. I’m all for a crazy theory here, as many of you know, but they need to make somewhat sense.


The more I learn of the ancient myths and stories, the more I see them in our modern stories, yet not shown as such. We all know there is a certain charm to the character of John Wick, and I think I figured it out; He’s Achilles.

 
 

Did You Know?

Achilles was not involved in the famous "Trojan Horse" scene.

 
 

Ending

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We hoped that you enjoyed this fun theory with these two characters.

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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.

 

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