Makin’ Moonshine

Makin’ Moonshine

The Sylent Majority
by Nathan Lower and Lee Hampton

Profiles in Brilliance:
Keanu Reeves

An American Dream

Keanu Reeves, his first name means “Cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian, but his legacy means brilliance. His skill as an actor far surpasses that of any of his generation. A cinematic chameleon, Reeves effortlessly plays roles representing all areas of the American political spectrum. Perhaps it is his birthplace of Lebanon which allows him the possibility to view the totality of political consciousness in America — the view of an outsider looking in. Regardless of his roots or inspiration all of Reeve’s roles, from his role as the voice of moderation in the Vietnam War film Speed, to his classic portrayal of one attempting to navigate their way through a postmodern labyrinth of meaning in The Matrix, all his parts have been both savvy and nuanced.
In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Reeves (Ted Logan) and co-star Alex Winter (Bill Preston) became the voice of a generation with the utterance of a single phrase: “Whoa!” The single word embodied the worldview that Reeves’ later masterworks would further develop: one signifying both open, selfless passivity and the transfiguration that knowledge and awareness brings. However in this film it also brought out the darker side of a generation in intellectual peril. Both Bill and Ted are unable to separate politics, history, and the pursuit of knowledge from pop culture, partying, and their overly pronounced sexual desires. This was Keanu’s first major role and the first time we saw his young promise beginning to blossom.

After working with great directors both young and veteran such as Gus Van Sant and Francis Ford Coppola and a performance in a film adaptation to the Shakespeare play Much Ado about Nothing, Keanu launched into one of his most profound eras. This era was a marked departure from his Bill and Ted days, with Reeves taking on far more specific and politically charged roles. The first and most well known in this series of films was the 1994 masterpiece Speed. In this titanic and career defining role, Reeves portrays a man unwillingly caught in the middle of an impossible situation: If the bus he is on drops under the speed of 50 miles an hour the bus will explode. However the bus can not sustain itself for long under such conditions. This conundrum is a lucid and powerful symbol for America’s precarious role in the Vietnam War. In a role peppered with nuance, Keanu plays Officer Jack Traven, a man who takes charge of the dangerous situation while his overwhelming concern is still palpable. His role is essentially one of mediation and dialectics. He must keep the bus going over fifty miles per hour, while at the same time acknowledging the bus’s inability to continue at such a speed forever due to the lack of resources. The Vietnam parallel is instantly recognizable: the need for America to keep pressure on anti-American interests coupled with the dwindling domestic support for the offensive, an increasingly dire situation on the battlefield, and the plummeting of troop morale.

In the films following Speed, the themes of Keanu’s roles broadened to domestic issues. In Johnny Mnemonic, the dystopian action/thriller where a disease known as NAS is wreaking havoc on almost half of the population, he acts as a carrier for a cure. He retrieves the cure from a giant drug company called Pharmacom Industries, who pursue him for the remainder of the movie despite Mnemonic’s potential to cure a widespread and deadly disease. Pharmacon’s lack of concern for anything other than their financial bottom line is obviously a thinly veiled reference to American pharmaceutical corporations and the health care system as a whole. In Chain Reaction Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz play scientists that discover a way to convert water to energy. However their invention is hijacked by the government for destructive purposes. In this role Keanu embodies American ingenuity and the burdens that come intrinsically packaged with it. With this trilogy of both socially and politically conscious roles, Keanu set a new bar for 90’s acting and the standard by which all of his contemporaries would find themselves measured.

The career of Keanu Reeves has been one thus far that has encapsulated his generation. Beginning with defining its popular culture and their struggle with contemporary academia through their coming of age bouts with the state of contemporary America and its past as well as their confrontation with religion and finally their search for transcendent meaning, Reeves has offered a complex portrayal of his generation thus far. Bravo Mr. Reeves, Bravo!