The year is 2019—well over 100 years into the movie business—and it still doesn’t feel like studios have figured out their audience. They churn out tired reboots of forgotten franchises; they push sequel after sequel until they’re not making money anymore; they disrupt filmmakers’ artistic visions and recut movies to disastrous results. Seemingly, the only movies that exist are the Disney ones that make over $1 billion…and everything else.
Oh, and there’s John Wick.
Among the top-grossing movies of the year, there are three Marvel fares, five Disney films (which includes two of those Marvel ones), Jordan Peele’s sleeper hit Us—and, believe it or not, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. It doesn’t seem probable that in the thick of everything is an aging, tired film star that has no place starring in the eighth-highest grossing film of the year…yet, here we are.
We are truly in the midst of Keanu Reeves’s year of resurgence—a Keanaissance, if you will. John Wick 3 had the second-biggest opening of Reeves’ career (before Toy Story 4 came out, that is), and that guy starred in the freakin’ Matrix movies. To date, John Wick 3 has accrued $170.2 million domestically and $320.1 million worldwide. And in total, the entire John Wick series has amassed over $580 million since 2014.
Reeves is obviously a huge reason for John Wick’s ostensibly interminable box office success—he so perfectly embodies the gruff virility of the John Wick character that I’ve labeled as “ bankable stoicism.” But after John Wick 3’s 12th weekend in theaters—during which it pulled in another $243,470 from 339 U.S. theaters approximately $300,000 from foreign showings—it’s clear that audiences have connected with something much deeper and much more profound than the superheroes and live action remakes that have otherwise dominated the box office.
They’ve connected with a man struggling with grief.
You may have been distracted by all of the outrageous gunfights in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, but at the core of the entire series is a man trying to exist in a world that no longer contains the love of his life. People poked fun at how John Wick was about a man avenging his murdered pet dog, but really John Wick’s indignant, violent reaction symbolically captures a man trying regain his former self—it’s reflective of the grieving process.
Grief manifests in many different ways. Many people end up enduring immense emotional and physical suffering—the classic rotation from outrage to denial to remorse to anguish. People go into shock, experience bewilderment and incredulity that their loved ones have passed. And after that initial trauma, the high level of stress can lead to restlessness, fatigue, crying fits and distressing dreams about the deceased.
As the years drag, grief is something to which we become all too accustomed. Our parents, our relatives, our friends, our pets—our loved ones continually phase out of our lives, and 99% of the population expects us to carry on like everything is normal.
But we all know we can’t do that. Things change. Even years after the depression has seemingly passed, there’s a part of you that’s forever warped by grief. All you can really do is keep living your life, keep taking the steps to improve your mental health, keep fighting to become a happy, thriving, productive version of yourself.
The opinions and strategies on how to deal with grief are endless. You can seek counseling, you can embrace your friends and family, you can join a group or club, you can take up an activity that distracts you from the loss. The beauty here is that there’s no real answer. Everybody is different, so my method for dealing with grief is likely completely different than what works for you. Grief is studied by psychologists around the world, yet it remains this enigmatic experience that changes from person to person.
And that’s why people connect with Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of John Wick. His monotonous delivery, his surly demeanor, his stoic personality isn’t seemingly what sells tickets at the box office…yet, here we are, $580 million later. And that’s because, whether we actively realize it or not, we recognize a fellow man grieving—we understand his pain, we’re attached to his plight.
Each bullet John fires, every life John takes is another step towards becoming the man who existed before his wife’s death. When described, it sounds kind of sick and messed up—but when you watch John Wick, you realize that it’s simply a coping mechanism. In fictional form, it’s an artistic representation of grief in a bloody, violent form. When John Wick fights for his life, he’s quite literally fighting for his life—he’s fighting to become the person he once was. And the moment someone bests him is the moment he loses that fight.
So as John Wick 3 heads into its 12th week at the box office—which will likely add yet another $1 million to the franchise’s total—let’s honor John Wick’s continued dogged battle. Each and every week John Wick 3 trucks on at the box office is emblematic of John’s own refusal to give up, to let grief get the best him.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.