Keanu Reeves and the Internet: Why netizens continue to obsess over the enigmatic John Wick star
by Karishma Upadhyay
The Internet has been exploding with Keanu Reeves memes and videos over the past few days. Keanu slow walking into a room, Keanu blowing kisses, Keanu playing with puppies and sighhh… Keanu in my dreams. The 54-year-old actor is suddenly red hot again and his little cameo in Ali Wong and Randall Park’s Netflix film, Always Be My Maybe, has him in his purest avatar — just looking good.
It all started once again this April with Daniel Jackson’s GQ cover shoot featuring the 54-year-old Keanu looking like a billion bucks in black and white. Oh he ages, but he ages well. We mortals add a few lines every year; this man just goes and adds a few more O’s to his oomph. Even as the fans were still fanning themselves over Keanu’s long hair, patchy beard, kind eyes, and cheekbones you could cut glass with, he signed up to be the face of Saint Laurent’s Fall collection, giving us enough sexy to break the Internet all over again. How do you sell a $50,000 leather jacket? Put it on a deeply contemplative Keanu Reeves and let everyone believe he’s thinking about you.
Keanu’s been a thirst trap for a quarter of a century now and an undisputed A-lister throughout this period. He broke on to the scene in the late 80s with a stoner-skateboarder look—moody and tortured, but blessed with seraphic beauty. His acting was mostly ridiculed, and he did a few forgettable roles till he landed Point Break alongside Patrick Swayze. He played bass guitar in an alt-rock band, Dogstar, and he was everything the MTV generation of the 90s thought was cool. It was Speed (1994), however, that catapulted him into the big league. Gone were the boyish looks, and the new buzzed look heralded a new phase in his career. Keanu was officially one of Hollywood’s main leading men, and by the time The Matrix released five years later, he was already a superstar. The franchise achieved legendary status and Keanu got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
The man’s a living legend, but his celebrity status really has very little to do with his acting or his films. His Hollywood career spanning thirty five years, has seen more misses than hits, and barring Speed and the Matrix films, there’s really very little to write home about. He’s terribly good looking, but so are many others. What is it, then, that separates this man from the boys?
For starters, there’s always been that element of mystery about him. There’s little known about his roots, apart from the fact that he was born in Beirut and comes from British-Portuguese-Chinese-Hawaiian ancestry. His father reportedly spent time in jail for drug dealing, while his mother hopped from one marriage to another, moving the family from Australia to the US and finally, Canada. Little is known about his childhood except for his love of ice hockey and motorcycles. He suffered the tragedy of a stillborn child in the late nineties and then lost his girlfriend a couple of years later in a car accident. Two decades on, and that’s pretty much all one knows about him. The enigma that is Keanu Reeves comes across in every role he plays, every photograph you see him in. This isn’t an image that’s been carefully cultivated—it just is what it is.
Then, there are the ‘nice guy’ stories about him all over the internet. Given that Keanu doesn’t believe in behaving like a celebrity and travels alone without an entourage, most of these are from people who have encountered him somewhere or the other during their travels. The most recent story has him helping fellow passengers into a van after an emergency landing, and playing songs on his phone to keep them entertained. Just two weeks ago, a Twitter user recapped his encounter with Keanu as a teenage ticket seller at the movies. The year was 2001. The actor showed up at his window to buy a ticket to the new Johnny Depp film (for real). The kid wanted an autograph but was too shy to ask for one. When Keanu realised this, he bought an ice cream only so that he could sign an autograph on the back of the bill for him. *Swoon*
So, he’s good-looking, mysterious and has loads of charm. Why not throw in some vulnerability for good measure? Just under a decade back, pictures of him surfaced sitting on a park bench, munching on a sandwich. He looked homeless, a little down, lonely and sad. The Internet has never seen a bigger outpouring of bursting ovaries, with everyone, men and women alike, wanting to take him home and cheer him up.
His career since The Matrix films has been a little patchy, but given his preference for a low profile, he quietly settled away from the limelight doing indie films and the odd Constantine to serve his hard-core fan base. When John Wick hit theatres in 2014, the film was written off by most as just another action flick created to serve a few. After all, a middle-aged, retired hitman shooting up a bunch of people wasn’t the kind of stuff that sold out theatres, and the film did average business at the box office. No surprises there. What nobody foresaw was the cult following it gradually developed online. The idea of a guy taking revenge on the people who killed his dog was just the kind of hero this world needs now. And that guy was Keanu Reeves; nobody in this world could remotely be as believable in that role. Five years later and John Wick 3: Parabellum already looks like it’s going to do more business ($125M in two-and-a-half weeks) than the first two instalments combined. You’d have to put this renewed success down to fans, old and new, rediscovering the man that is Keanu Reeves.
There’s something ethereal about Keanu Reeves, and no matter how hard he tries, he’ll never really go away. He quietly resides somewhere in the corner of your head, just waiting to be prodded back into life with the smallest of stimuli. A picture. A meme. A story. An anecdote.