Sometimes when the worst happens, we have to live and let live. Other times, it’s completely normal to go insane. Derek Kolstad’s screenplay for John Wick – alternatively titled Scorn – has exactly that happen. In it, we see a man take a heavy loss and let go of his better judgment to exact revenge on people who take other important things from him. And John Wick does so in some of the craziest ways I’ve ever read or seen in cinema.
The screenplay for John Wick does an amazing job at showing us a character that we want to see exact revenge and kill everyone in New York City that gets in his way in a lean, fluff-free, stylish, gripping manner. If you’re ever looking to create a character in a screenplay that is emotionally tortured and loses their mind in order to cope, keep these tips in mind.
Take Us Through The Gamut of Their Emotions
In the beginning of the screenplay, Kolstad introduces us to John at his home. The screenplay tells us there is evidence of a “long and healthy life with his wife, Norma… No children, yet sheer, unadulterated happiness.” His wife passes away due to illness and John descends into an understandable pit of despair. The fourth page of the screenplay shows him in his car as he “sits behind the wheel for a long moment… his eyes unblinking… so very alone…”
However, John receives an adorable corgi/chihuahua mix that Norma sends him before she passes away. She tells him via a card attached to the corgi’s carrier that she wants him to keep living after she’s gone. He is given the opportunity to carry on with the dog and start a new chapter of his life instead of mourning the end of the last one.
Kolstad illustrates how broken up he is and how hopeful he is after getting the dog, Moose (editor's note: the dog's character ends up being a female beagle pup named Daisy in the film). So when Iosef and his punk Russian friends kill Moose and steal John’s car, the audience knows how badly it hurts John. And when Viggo – Iosef’s father, John’s old associate, and the head Russian gangster in New York – hears what Iosef has done, he conveys via exposition that the fallout will be bad because of John’s buried history. More good storytelling techniques; as Viggo tells his son how badly he messed up, John is in his house’s basement unearthing his old weapons.
We see John be sad, angry, joyous, determined, funny, witty, and relentlessly crazy throughout this screenplay. But we see how he goes from one emotion through another, by careful plotting and sensible developments. He adjusts to things as they come to him. When exhibiting your character’s emotions and responses, take a page out of Kolstad’s book and do so with interesting storytelling.
Give Them More Than Enough Justification
John is living his life with Moose peaceably. At the gas station, John doesn’t even want trouble with Iosef. He responds to the arrogant young punk respectfully. But Iosef comes after John anyway and sets off the plot of John Wick.
John has plenty of reason to do the things he does in the screenplay. Main characters need motivation that we the audience can see and understand in order to keep us on their side as they do what they do. It’s captivating to the audience to see Moose get killed and John get his weapons out of storage because we wonder what he’ll do next, how he’ll do it, and if he’ll be successful in achieving his desires in the screenplay.
He’s justified in going crazy, also, simply because he can. The loss of Norma and Moose get him to unleash a version of himself that has been dormant for years. We are completely on board with him being capable and vengeful. We get to see him be a skilled killer, tracker, and negotiator with the seedy people and atmospheres he left behind.
He gets a pass from us also because Viggo fights against John’s justified crusade by putting a bounty on his head. This is an extremely interesting aspect of the action. Viggo correctly assumes that all John wants is to kill Iosef for killing his dog. Viggo is upset at Iosef for setting it all into motion but has to defend his son, hence the bounty. The added resistance of assassins coming after John only makes him more determined in his mission to exact revenge. When creating your emotionally driven loose cannon, give them plenty of reason to do so.
Make Them Keep Going, Even In Defeat
Getting killed never seems to be a thing that crosses John’s mind or comes up as an option. He faces plenty of opposition. John infiltrates the Red Circle Club in Act II of the screenplay and attempts to strong-arm Viktor, who helped kill Moose, for information leading to Iosef and Viggo. In doing so, a guard shoots John, leading to one of the many injuries John sustains throughout the screenplay. In the movie, John gets injured in this sequence by being thrown from a second floor ledge and landing on his shoulder. Despite his debilitating injuries, he keeps trying to kill Iosef.
John is a man possessed and, more importantly, driven by emotions that are roaring. Give your crazy-driven character plenty of fuel to keep their emotions running rampant, even if there aren’t any shootings or judo moves in your emotionally amped character’s arsenal.