Working quietly, behind the veil of our day-to-day lives, Keanu Reeves has been ever-present, becoming, with every mirthless punch and every glass-eyed glare, an unshakeable part of our social imaginary.
Enough of his movies have become part of our zeitgeist to eliminate any doubt of the hand he plays in shaping our lifeworlds. From the oft-imitated tropes of Bill + Ted, to the emotionally inspirational and narratively perfect Point Break and Speed, to the era-defining and taste-altering Matrix films, Keanu Reeves has been an influential undercurrent in our collective consciousness.
Keanu Reeves is interesting. Therein lies his influence.
What is interesting is not always popular. But, the fact that Keanu Reeves — a man who is obviously deeply interesting — is an influence on what is popular is testament to the resoluteness of his mind.
He is a man with a mind that sees beyond the obvious, that must rebel against the prevailing norms to bring to life a vision of a world that is deeper than what can be seen, that goes beyond the superficial to probe the questions that plague the human soul, to excoriate the mysticism that lurks at the fringes of our imagination.
He shows us a side of ourselves that others do not.
His recent ventures explore the margins of the film industry, both technically and physically. In Man of Tai Chi, a film he directed, Keanu Reeves went to the most important film market, China, and made a film that was intense, that questioned the morality of contemporary popularity and social media, that was beautiful/innovative, that used music well and interestingly, and in which he spoke Chinese.
His latest adventure John Wick — in which he spoke Russian — was a narratively-solid romp of excellent action, performed with skill and difficulty on a personal level (unlike large-scale action pictures), all of which had at its core the quintessentially human impetus of loss for loved ones, which was expressed with care and beauty in the film’s opening — thereby taking up a substantial part of an action film, reflecting the fact that everything Keanu Reeves does has soul.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Keanu Reeves is his unchangingness. Throughout the variety of the roles he has played — and they are diverse — his now iconic demeanor remains constant. It is a demeanor that — shifting between surfer-like gormlessness and Zen-like awareness — reflects his personal experiences with the difficult and mysterious vicissitudes of this world, taken with the dignity of the man who is aware of its transitoriness.
His unchanging constancy makes it possible for the world to see its own multitudinous reflections bouncing back off the deep diversity of his mind’s conflicting components and the diversity of the human beings he encompasses.
At the core of that diversity, however, is a repeated theme — that Keanu Reeves is a man who must fight in order to save the world, and who is aware, in the end, that in order to save others, he must disassociate from his self.