Filmography Portrait

of Keanu Reeves

by Matvey Cherry

Illustration by Paco May

— along with Pitt and Depp —

belongs to the last generation of real stars,

but seems more accessible,

closer to a coming-of-age story.

Pitt smiled too widely, Depp was unattainably cool. And Keanu, with the gait of a provincial bumpkin who had stumbled into the cinema from the Canadian frosts, from the hockey arena without taking off his skates, turned out to be very important as an alter ego and a secret best friend. Everything about him appealed to empathy: complex ethnic provenance, fatherlessness, and clubfoot. But the main thing that was felt instantly was his kindness, before the memes about him, before the photos from the subway or the city square; Keanu crushed by existence, but not dropping humanism from his hands. Katherine Bigelow was not mistaken in choosing Keanu. He looks more like a sea deity, though clean-shaven. He is the only one on earth who can wear a denim jacket with jeans. He has a very deep voice as if he has just woken up from the oblivion of Elysium and doesn’t choose words after the fall, as befits the first of people or, maybe, the last. No one knows for sure at all. Up on the crest of a wave, Keanu drifted with the flow. He hung out between roles – the son of my mother’s friend, a neighbor’s boy, one of your teenage friends, someone who reality bites from time to time.

In 1991, Keanu worked with Gus Van Sant, who had already become a singer of the youth, the main Peter Pan of independent cinematography. But My Own Private Idaho became mine much later, to be honest. Scott Favor is probably the best of people and therefore hesitantly wanders from words to deeds, trying to talk about the Quietest, but already felt. It’s good to be someone who can try. It’s bad to be Mike Waters, whose on-screen fate was almost repeated frame by frame by River Phoenix, who, contrary to his last name, never resurrected in the parking lot in front of a nightclub. The myth of the Phoenix is comparable to the legend of James Dean; he became immortal, leaving Keanu and Joaquin on the banks of the River Styx, crying out — let us also be swallowed up by these waters, we agree even to oblivion.

Life is about long send-offs and short meetings. On October 31, 1993, for the first time, Keanu was orphaned. Exactly then, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, when the dead rise from their graves to remind us: we were like you and you will become like us. But Keanu has already become. It was already too late for him to read Rilke, who advised young poets to live only with questions. And what if the answer is received?

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he struggles with hell (in his head, not in medieval Transylvania); Bertolucci brings up a Buddha. Everywhere his face bears the seal of mourning — for dreams that lead nowhere. He is becoming more and more like an evil god from the Indian pantheon. In these years, it would be just right for him to play the transgression of Anakin Skywalker. On the other side of the permissible, because death is unacceptable in general.

The apotheosis of this transformation, of course, is The Devil’s Advocate, a mockery of America, which in 1997 didn’t yet need either justification or repentance. This was the America of our childhood which we said goodbye to forever. It bristled with skyscrapers as if it boasted a healthy, reinforced concrete erection. In this America, only the dollar deserved beatification.

The Devil’s Advocate today looks like an extremely naturalistic caricature, a repulsive, truly terrible sight about the temptations of this world, about the relationship with conscience, about the madness of capitalism that divorced ethics from aesthetics. The mourning is over, it’s time to fight. With everything in general, just in case.

1999 was, according to Brian Raftery, the best year in the history of cinema. The twentieth century gave mankind a scattering of masterpieces at parting. The Matrix is among them. All this cinema, all that jazz that we watched and listened to for almost a hundred years, was not what it seemed. Keanu guessed it first again. No matter how naive all these metaphors of the crisis of faith from 2022 were, The Matrix, of course, helped viewers who were trembling on the eve of the millennium to leap into a sad and dark future. Another thing is that The Matrix needed neither a reboot nor a revolution, much less a resurrection.

In the new Matrix, the screenwriters still persuaded him to lie down on the couch – Freud and Marx are still the most alive. But is Keanu alive? Does he really need it? Isn’t this a projection instead of a man of flesh and blood? Did he swallow the blue pill by mistake?

Matvey Cherry


Paco May


If you enjoy Paco’s work, please consider donating:

Matvey will accept tips through Sidewalkkilla (please mention “For Matvey” in notes):