In case you’ve been stuck in a simulated reality, you may have noticed Keanu Reeves is having a moment. Blame John Wick 3; blame Always Be My Maybe. Blame Toy Story 4, in which he stars, or the fickle internet itself, and the way, at the tap of a finger, a low-lying niche celebrity can suddenly blow up. Choose whichever medium you want but it won’t make it any less true: Keanu is now riding the third week of his ascendancy as the internet’s soulmate and showing no sign of flaming out.
We know why he’s suddenly “current” but less obvious is why this 54 year old actor who has been famous, as Time Magazine points out, for the better part of 30 years, should pull us into his specific orbit now.
How could a man, who - quite literally – bobbed up and down as a playful stoner in movies like Bill & Ted and Parenthood, shape-shift into this almost inscrutably serious action star in movies like Speed, The Matrix, and (of course), John Wick?
And while his ageless, translucent face, with its high cheek bones, almond eyes and aqualine nose, has remained beautiful, it’s not the primary reason for the Keanu renaissance, (though, it hasn’t hurt).
We don’t know a whole lot about the Beirut-born Canadian man of Chinese and Lebanese descent, who lost his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, in a car accident in 2001, two years after she gave birth to their stillborn child, because he has never talked in detail about it. But, he’s never acted out over it either.
There have been no drunk altercations with police officers; no recordings or accusations of him abusing anyone, and subsequently, no #MeToo faux apologising; no violent threats; no childish spats on social media, no brawling, no beat ups. No great, horrific reveal about a scandalous double life.
To the contrary, stories of his kindness, his philanthropy and his humility, abound. Even when he was told on television last week that he had become the internet’s boyfriend, he seemed happy, chuffed, even -- but for us – the people who manufactured such fun for ourselves, the way you’re happy for a 3-year-old for finger painting your portrait.
It might be that tragedy has given him perspective, but his gentle, reserved sweetness has always been a part of his demeanour.
The name “Keanu” translates as “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian, and, in an age where so much toxic masculinity is bubbling to the surface, Keanu embodies a refreshing, and much-needed alternative. If we think over his roles as a romantic interest, he almost always stars opposite Alpha Females – Sandra Bullock in Speed, Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, Lori Petty in Point Break, even Ali Wong in Always be My Maybe – women who find in Keanu, a man who will listen.
And though there have been numerous onscreen couplings, Reeves appears to radiate a level of purity not normally found outside of monasteries. There is a type of spiritualised shyness that surrounds him – call it a mysterious vulnerability, helped in part, by the memes of him as “sad Keanu” and The Matrix franchise, which pegged him as a Messianic figure. Still, he wears his shyness on his sleeve, appearing nervous on Ellen when he confessed to his crush on Sandra Bullock while filming Speed.
When I used to think of my own son, who is not yet six, and the unselfconscious way he kisses me each morning before heading to class, or the way he hasn’t yet learnt how to hold back tears when he’s sad, I used to have to clamp down on the wistfulness that followed. “Soon” I would normally say to myself “he’ll cover up that vulnerability like a wound.”
But lately, in light of this outpouring of love for Keanu, a part of me thinks perhaps the reason this actor is so beloved in 2019, is that we’ve finally arrived at a point where we’re open to him. He’s been modelling a compassionate, vulnerable version of masculinity for 30 years, but we’ve been so distracted by Top Guns and Reservoir Dogs, by cads and bad boys, we just haven’t been able to appreciate it until now. And the knowledge of that makes me hopeful for my son, and all the other gentle boys, who might now remain open, and playful, like that cool breeze, light and refreshing over the mountains.
Natalie Reilly is a freelance writer. You can follow Natalie on Twitter @thatnatreilly.