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Necessary and Unnecessary Things

I recently once again reflected on what enhances our lives and our humanity and what does not. It began with, of all things, a movie, John Wick 4. Sadly, I had watched the second two in the series in the hopes that they might be worthy of the first. To be honest, the first John Wick was hardly a movie masterpiece, but it had a few redeeming elements and something of a plot with something of a hero and an antihero. As with so many sequels, the next two movies thoroughly disappointed, devolving into nothing but a mishmash of mindless (and endless) fight scenes. True to form, the "hero," Keanu Reeves, zombied his way through the movies in what could hardly be called acting. As a side note, Keanu Reeves is generally a much better actor (Matrix I, Constantine, Little Buddha, The Lake House, and so on). So, I resolved to ignore the fourth and (thank God) last installment. However, whenever we turned on our movie channel, there it was prominently staring at me week after week as a recommended movie—like a nagging toothache you can't ignore. Out of boredom, I finally gave in.

After watching the movie, I realized there were three hours of my life I would never get back. It was the worst of the four, which is saying a lot. I had a hard time figuring out if there was a discernible plot, and there were really no characters that you could feel for or even want to. However, I am sharing this not to be a movie critic but to point out the darkness in the movie. Most fiction books, films, plays, and even comic books draw us into their story because there is usually some defining life challenge or morality play of good versus evil. In all these literary genres, "literary license" and the "suspension of belief" are used to make a story work. There is no expectation that it will exactly match reality, especially if we cross over into fantasy, horror, and science fiction. At the same time, it must be somewhat believable in the world the author has created. None of that existed in John Wick 4. We have a series of antiheroes and villains for which we can neither have sympathy for nor find particularly interesting. They are pitted against even more evil (and uninteresting) antiheroes and villains. In John Wick's perilous journey, he literally fights through and kills hundreds of thugs, successfully dodges thousands of bullets, avoids dozens of knives and swords thrust at him, falls several stories from a building, landing on a car, and collides several times with fast-moving cars. He walks away from all of them only to finally be killed in a gun duel with his blind best friend, but only after he kills the super bad guy while mortally wounded. This is not the suspension of belief. It is the height of ridiculous. So, that is the stupid part. Now comes the dark part.

Let's just start with the mass killings throughout the movie. They become mind-numbing. They also become emotion-numbing. Life is not precious. It means little, and death is just another action scene. Death is entertainment. For example, in the movie, how many ways can we see bizarre and horrific methods to kill a human? We have all become so inured to death scenes with all the war, spy, detective, and CSI-type TV shows and movies we routinely view that we forget the individuality of each person murdered before our eyes.

As an example, as the War in Ukraine unfolded, we were all treated to scenes of drones dropping bombs on Russian soldiers and tanks blowing sky high, often accompanied by cries of triumph. As much as I am repulsed by Vladimir Putin and all dictators, and as much as I support the Ukrainian's fight for freedom, I cannot ignore the sadness I feel watching these scenes of devastation. What Russian parent, sibling, child, and grandparent will soon be weeping at the loss of their son, brother, father, and grandchild? These nameless, faceless soldiers had a life, just as the Ukrainians they were bombing and shooting had a life. In the same manner, if they had been real people, the fictional characters in John Wick likewise had parents, siblings, children, and grandparents who may have loved them. But they are nameless, faceless pawns to the so-called script.

The second dark arena occurred in a nightclub scene. As the various assassins are chasing each other through the club, hundreds of men and women are dancing with dazed intensity, oblivious to the mayhem running by them. The dancers appear enraptured and mesmerized. It almost looks like a scene from Dante's Inferno and clearly infuses a demonic flavor.

The final dark theme is the glorification of a criminal syndicate of assassins and their supposed codes of honor. We are supposed to care about these cruel individuals and their slavery to vile rules and traditions. Friends betray and kill friends. There is no heart. Only ego and greed dominate. Violence is supreme.

Which brings me to my point. There are things that enhance humanity and life, and there are things that contribute nothing of value. In fact, they take away from all that is good and loving. These are the unnecessary things. The Buddha asserted there are skillful actions and means versus unskillful actions and means. Unskillful ways cause harm and pain through actions, words, emotions, and thoughts. It is up to us to choose which path to follow—one that contributes things of value or one that only takes and does not give back. Do we embrace loving and light-filled intent or dark and ill intentions? I would posit that John Wick 4 was an absolutely unnecessary addition to the pantheon of Hollywood films and the antithesis of creative artistry. It represents the height of Hollywood unskillful means, and its only intention was to make more money for the producers and actors while feeding some people's unprincipled fascination with violence and gore. I'm sure we could all come up with a long list of movies and other human endeavors that are unnecessary. Darkness feeds on the unnecessary, wasteful, and hurtful things.

So, I learned my lesson. Listen to my intuition. Ignore the marketing messages. Don’t lose a precious three hours of my life. Don’t watch dark, hollow movies. Don’t feed the beast.



Rev. Dr. Tom Norris

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