Archives in the Movies: John Wick Chapters 1-3
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
It started with a puppy and a man grieving his dead wife. And within a few minutes it became about revenge and a secret organization of assassins with its own rules of engagement. Most notorious among these assassins is the man who managed to get out: John Wick (Keanu Reeves), Baba Yaga, the Boogeyman. Unfortunately, his old life found a way to bring him back in and it doesn't plan on letting him go again.
While the John Wick movies are a delightful smorgasbord of chase sequences, weapon-of-choice combat, and glorious fight choreography the most fascinating aspect of the movies is the organization surrounding the network of assassins. There's a specific set of rules and a vernacular shared among those who serve under the High Table. Break those rules and your life is forfeit. It's an organization steeped in traditions of religious dogma and medieval fealty that persists, and thrives, in the modern world. I suppose the one thing that doesn't change is that there are always people to kill, but it's the mix of the old and the new that sets this world of assassins apart stylistically.
The most obvious example is the Accounts Payable/Administration department. Given the vast network of assassins, operatives, open bounties, and territories that need to be accounted for, it's no wonder that there's a central bureaucracy at work. Running that department is a group of mostly women dressed in their finest vintage pin-up uniform. The sleeveless pink shirt, grey pencil skirt, and the plethora of tattoos, piercings, and black nail polish are the perfect marriage of old school and modern glamour. Compared to the varying shades of black worn by the assassins out in the field, the operators of Accounts Payable are downright fashion forward.
They're also records managers.
I know it seems pretty obvious when I say it out loud - or when you read it - but the John Wick movies aren't exactly hoping your focus is on the bureaucratic nuance of their secret organization when Keanu Reeves is taking on five dudes in a warehouse full of sharp objects that need throwin'! But those people have never met me and I notice the shit out of those bureaucratic nuances while also noticing Keanu's knife-throwing prowess.
The point is the secret organization of assassins needs to be stealthy about how they keep track of their assets and their enemies and the only way to do that is through meticulous record-keeping. You want to label someone "Excommunicado?" You want to "Deconsecrate" neutral territory? Someone needs to know where the files are so they can stamp that lovely red ink across those pristine black and white pages. The records are stored in house and, to add even more nostalgia to Accounts Payable's already distinctive aesthetics, the operators work with antiquated switchboards, landlines, and Commodore 64s to conduct business and pass on information. Bounties are tracked on a giant chalkboard reminiscent of bets placed on racehorses and there's nary a piece of digital equipment to be found. They're all analog, which makes sense when a digital footprint is much easier to track in this day and age. If someone wanted to hunt these people down, then they'd have their work cut out for them. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) makes a similar case for why he uses pigeons to communicate with his informants.
There's probably something to be gleaned from the John Wick franchise about records and old stuff and women dressed in clothes meant for an era long since past, but I kinda don't care. It looks cool and fashion exists in a cycle of cultural relevance. Let me have the world of sexy rockabilly records managers!