It has been a characteristic feature of every film in the John Wick franchise to take inspiration from mythology and create characters that go beyond the generally perceived notions of good and evil. From Heracles in Greek mythology to Karn in Hindu mythology, we see glimpses of these mythological heroes in the character of John Wick, and that is what adds more depth to the entire narrative and makes it even more intriguing. So, let’s take a look at all these inspirations and find out if John Wick could be called a hero or a villain.
Major Spoilers Ahead
John Wick and Heracles
We believe that John Wick’s character fits best into Aristotle’s template of a tragic hero and could be referred to as what the philosopher defines as a flawed good man. There are times when the audience becomes sympathetic towards Wick’s life’s struggle, and there are times when he invokes a sense of fear as if he were a brutal man. John was a good man, but he was living in a corrupt world, which made the entire scenario a moral conundrum for him. He had to survive at all costs because he wanted to honor the memory of his late wife, but that also meant that he would have to let go of the virtues that made him a good man. John was the protagonist, but Chad Stahelski made sure that the audience had a hard time looking up to him as a role model, as his behavior was not always appropriate for the title. The character sketch of John reminds us of the great German mythological hero, Heracles, who was known as a champion protector as much as he was known for his irrational deeds with questionable motivations.
Hercules was seen as a hero figure by most people, and some also considered him to be equivalent to the “Deathless God,” but still, the character was believed to be emotionally unstable and resorted to death and destruction with the slightest of incidents. At times, the gods relied on Heracles, and at other times, they became his biggest foe, and there was no uniform opinion that they all had about him. A direct analogy could be drawn to John Wick’s case here, who at times worked for the High Table and became an asset for the members. He was High Table’s most valued, yet most volatile, treasure, and he had the potential to cause as much harm as he did good. That is why, maybe, in “John Wick: Chapter 4,” Marquis says that he wants to get rid of the idea of John Wick because, a lot of times, his actions had the capability of undermining the authority of the supreme power, i.e., the High Table, and that was something that was not acceptable.
For some people, John was no less than a demigod because he didn’t think twice before waging war against the supreme authority, and still, they couldn’t kill him after all he had done as he had a knack for coming back from the dead. It was believed that Baba Yaga couldn’t die; he might fall, but he was always resurrected. The concept of virtue was constantly fluctuating in John’s world, which is why it becomes even more difficult to define John Wick’s character in black and white. According to Greek and Roman mythology, heroes were not as infallible as we consider them to be today. Heracles was often driven by selfish motives, which had nothing to do with creating a better or a more just world. Sometimes it was just about taking revenge, and there was simply no other justification available for that action. Though John’s battle had taken on a much larger form by the 4th Chapter, it had originated in a very personal space.
John Wick as Karna in Mahabharat
In the Mahabharata, which is one of the major epics of Hindu mythology, we are introduced to a demigod named Karna, who was abandoned by his mother, Kunti, upon his birth because she was not married at the time of the pregnancy, and she was scared that she would have to face a lot of backlash from the society. Karna turned out to be a great warrior and a staunch loyalist. Life had been a struggle for Karna since the very beginning, and it felt like every time he found something that gave him happiness, the gods snatched it from him and condemned him to a life of misery.
In the Mahabharata, Karna fought against the Pandavas, i.e., he went against the party with whom the gods sided, but he still wasn’t an evil man. Just like Karna, John Wick never got the love he deserved and was abandoned at a young age. The Roma Ruska were equivalent to the Kauravas in the Mahabharata, who gave Wick shelter and a sense of belonging. Both Karna and John Wick remained loyal to the people who helped them when nobody else did. Karna didn’t have any qualms about going against the Pandavas because he considered it his duty to not break the trust of Duryodhan, the eldest of the Kauravas. Similarly, when John Wick is sent by Katia to kill Killa, he does it because he considers it his duty and he wants to repay the debt of Roma Ruska for helping him time and again.
John Wick as a Rebel
In the Indian independence movement, where Mahatma Gandhi was preaching his ideology of non-violence, there was another person whose ways and means were in stark contrast with the Mahatma. Bhagat Singh believed that what he was doing couldn’t be termed as violence because he was not killing any innocent person. He was raising his voice against an authoritarian regime as he believed that there was no nobility in being oppressed and staying quiet. Bhagat Singh always maintained that violence and an act of self-defense were two different things, and he considered his actions to fall within the ambit of the latter. At one point, the colonial rulers were more scared of the idea of Bhagat Singh and the kind of furore that his actions could create than the man himself. They wanted to kill Bhagat Singh and all such revolutionaries not because they were actively doing something but because their existence itself was perceived as a threat to the monarchy, and they had proven the fact that the monarch was not a representative of God and was capable of being defeated.
The High Table had a similar problem with Wick, too. John Wick had, time and again, brought the weaknesses of these so-called gods and the loopholes in their undemocratic system into the public’s purview. The system in both cases was oppressive and mostly fascist, and if one tried to go against it, he was accused of committing blasphemy. Marquis was scared that a day would arrive when people would start questioning the High Table, and before that happened, he wanted to pin down the legendary assassin at all costs.
The Gods of the High Table
The High Table could also be taken as an allegory to the 12 gods of Olympus from Greek mythology and the Devas from Hindu mythology. The character of Marquis was analogous to that of Zeus or Indra, who, according to Greek and Hindu mythology, respectively, didn’t have a very clear conscience and were not the most dignified people that you would come across. Like Indra or Zeus, Marquis always took advantage of the loopholes in the rules and regulations and resorted to all sorts of deceptive and treacherous ploys to stop Wick from reaching the place where a duel was supposed to happen at sunrise. The High Table ran a parallel legal setup where they had their own constitution, their own adjudicators and lawyers, and their own penal code.
We believe that Winston’s character could be compared to that of Lord Krishna from Hindu mythology. During the Mahabharata, it was Lord Krishna who removed Arjuna’s dilemmas and told him that it was his duty to fight the war against the Kauravas. Lord Krishna was like a mentor to Arjuna, who guided him and showed him the way every time he felt lost and conflicted. In a similar fashion, Winston told John Wick how to defeat Marquis while playing well within the legal ambits. Winston made him privy to a loophole in the laws and advised him to take advantage of it.
We believe that Bowery King and Winston were quite similar in their basic approach and the way in which they liked conducting their business. In more than one way, they both could be compared to the Greek God of the Underworld, Hades, as they both maintained a very diplomatic stance when it came to their dealings with the High Table. They both swore their allegiance to the High Table more than once but constantly broke the law. They both supported John Wick, but they never did so explicitly, and they maintained an air of mystery around their intentions until the very last moment. The Continental was like a sanctuary where violence wasn’t allowed, and a person who had entered there was granted complete immunity. There were strict rules that had to be followed and breaking them had serious consequences. John Wick was possibly the only one who had broken the rules of the Continental and was still alive, just like Heracles and Theseus, who were the only two people who had come out of the Underworld, according to Greek myths. Bowery King’s underground establishment could be compared to the Underworld mentioned in Greek mythology, and though Hades never betrayed the gods, the Bowery King decided to go against the High Table and support John Wick in his pursuit.
John Wick Conclude His Journey Of Revenge
We believe that John might not be a hero if we assess him according to the standards of the contemporary world because, somehow, we have made the definition quite black and white in contrast to what it had been earlier. A hero was convoluted from within; a hero was never devoid of all the sins; a hero often acted for his own vested interests and was not the epitome of dignity and virtuosity that one imagined them to be. A hero was always a flawed man who didn’t shy away from his shortcomings but tried to overcome them constantly and be good.
John had started realizing that no matter how much he tried to hide from himself, one day he would have to face the bitter truth. The Elder, in the fourth Chapter, told Wick that he couldn’t escape who he was and if he thought that could attain peace by killing everyone that came his way, then he was wrong. The Elder spoke wise words, and he told John that the only way he could get peace was by embracing death. It wasn’t that John didn’t know about it but he was just not ready to accept the truth. Winston also told John a similar thing that the concept he had in his mind of killing everybody and then one day retiring was not practically possible.
John Wick was an assassin, and till the end, it became very clear that as long as he was alive, circumstances and his own inherent nature wouldn’t let him renounce violence and stay out of the game. Winston told him that by killing Marquis he would achieve nothing, and the infinite loop will keep going. Akira, who was the daughter of Shimazu, the owner of the Osaka Continental hotel, told John that he was the sole reason innocent people were being killed, and those words pierced his soul like an arrow. John still wanted to defy the Gods of the High Table and kill their leader, but at the same time, he was ready to pay for his sins. He had realized that to attain peace he would have to leave the mortal realm. He had realized that he was wrong in assuming that he could stay alive and honor the memory of his wife. When he made a secret deal with Caine before the last duel, he knew that he wouldn’t survive to see the light of day, but he still went ahead with the plan because that was how he could walk the road of redemption.