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John Wick Director Explains How Franchise Represents The Greek Myths Of Odysseus & Sisyphus

The franchise's infatuation with folklore was apparent from the moment Viggo Tarasov referred to John Wick as "Baba Yaga."

By Josh Weiss
Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 4 (2023)

From its very inception, the John Wick franchise has exhibited a fascination with mythology and folklore.

It all began when Russian crime boss Viggo Tasarov (played by the late Michael Nyqvist), described Keanu Reeves' titular assassin as "Baba Yaga," a feared entity of the Slavic tradition. John wasn't the Boogeyman, "He was the one you sent to kill the f—ing Boogeyman."

Since then, the relentless hitman with a soft spot for lovable canines has morphed into a stand-in for tragic characters of Greek mythology like Odysseus and Sisyphus. He goes on a dangerous odyssey to free himself from the High Table (i.e. the vengeful gods of old), but every time he makes some kind of admirable progress, he's pushed back down the hill (i.e. that staircase tumble in Chapter 4).

RELATED: John Wick Director Has Plenty of Stunt Ideas for Chapter 5 - Now He Just Needs to Find the Story

"I can't push Greek mythology enough," longtime John Wick director Chad Stahelski emphasized to Empire for the magazine's August 2023 issue (now on sale). "It's fate and consequence, the illusion of choice. It's literally Odysseus meets Sisyphus. I've said it's the story of Sisyphus many times I'm like, 'F*** it, I'm just gonna actually visualize it in number four.'"

He continued: "Me and Laurent Demianoff, the stunt choreographer, were scouting in Paris for the first time and we stood at the top of the Sacré-Coeur and went, 'He's going down this. And then he's gonna go up, and he's gonna go down again and then he's gonna come up again. F*** it, we're just gonna make him push the boulder up.'"

Stahelski went on to characterize the series as more of a heightened "campfire story" (as opposed to a "real-life grounded" one) with parallels to Dante's Divine Comedy. Think about it: John literally goes through Hell before reaching salvation through death.

"So, did John die? Did John Wick die?" Stahelski mused. "Did one of those personas die? Did he have to clean the slate? Did he fool the High Table? Or did he actually pass? You know, we've seen John take worse injuries. To be really honest, I would say the persona of Wick had to die, so he could either escape or move on. That goes back to Dante."

John Wick: Chapter 4 is now available to rent/purchase on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD.

The universe of the films will expand this fall when The Continental: From the World of John Wick checks into Peacock. Ballerina (directed by Underworld alum Len Wiseman) hits the big screen June 7, 2024.