So this is part 2 of an essay that I posted here a few years ago (I took an unexpectedly long break from writing). It’s part of a series that I’m also trying to revive called “Cinemixology”, where I analyze pop culture based on alcoholic beverages. I also made a video version if that’s more your style.
In Part 1 I examined the drinks of Viggo Tarasov and his son Iosef (the villains in John Wick 1), and in part 2 I continue to explore the drinks of John Wick and another crime family with ties to John’s past: The D’Antonios. Specifically, brother/sister pair Santino and Gianna.
**WARNING: ALL THE SPOILERS for John Wick 2**
John Wick Chapter 2 introduces more shadowy organizations and more colorful bands of assassins to expand the Wickverse mythology. Continuing on from John Wick, the main imagery of John Wick 2 is John’s descent back into the Hell world he had previously escaped.
More shadowy organizations and more colorful bands of assassins expand the Wickverse mythology
Throughout the movie we see always see John doing down. If he’s using stairs, he’s going down them. If he’s riding an elevator, that arrow is pointed down. The visual language of the film makes it clear that John is traveling deep down into the Underworld and will have to deal with the hellish minions that lurk there.
The main thrust pulling John back into the bowels of the underworld are the D’Antonios. This fancy brother and sister are not defined by the variety of their drinks but their sole drink: Red Wine.
Who are The D’Antonios?
As mentioned before, Santino and Gianna D’Antonio are the heads of a crime family with ties to John’s past, as well as members of the mysterious High Table that rules the assassin underworld. Though these ties are kept vague (as usual with the Wickverse), we know a few main things:
- Santino provided some sort of help during the Impossible Task that allowed John to escape the underworld.
- Gianna and then Santino were 1 of 12 members of a mysterious organization known as The High Table that rules the criminal underworld.
- John and Gianna considered each other friends.
- John owes a debt to Santino in the form of a favor that cannot be refused.
Though John wants to be done with the Assassin underworld after he makes peace with the Tarasovs, it’s Santino that drags John further back in by calling in his debt. John tries to refuse and begs Santino to call off the debt, but Santino ignores John’s pleas. He then orders John to kill Gianna so that Santino can take control of his family’s crime organization.
John does this and then seeks revenge on Santino, and that assassination sets up John Wick 3.
Another barebones plot with a lot going on in the background. So let’s start examining these fancy siblings’ drinking choices starting with Gianna.
Another barebones plot with a lot going on in the background.
Who is Gianna D’Antonio?
Gianna is all about wine.
Despite her relatively short screen time, she’s seen drinking from at least 2 different glasses of red wine.
She’s introduced walking into a bacchanalia thrown in her honor and, as everyone else toasts her with champagne, she replies with her glass of wine.
Gianna is all about wine.
She doesn’t just drink wine, however. Almost her entire scene takes place in what looks like a cross between a wine cellar, a chapel, and a Turkish bath. and there is wine everywhere. Racks of wine adorn the walls. There are wine decanters and glassware.
And then there’s the decor.
A light fixture shaped like an old grapevine with glass grape clusters serves as a candle holder. There are even what appear to be tall glass columns of wine with tiny votive candles floating in them. When she dies, her blood stains her bathwater into a red-wine sea.
It is clear she represents a god of wine.
So why did her brother want this deity dead?
Who is Santino D’Antonio?
Santino is just kind of a prick. His sister had power and he wanted it.
Santino actually does not drink at all until after well after his sister is dead and he is attending his own party. As was his sister, he is celebrating his ascension to power. Unlike his sister, he toasts with a glass of champagne like everyone else.
He does not have a glass of wine like his sister until the very end of the movie, directly before he is killed by John Wick. From this, we can infer that Santino is a pale imitation of his sister and not worth the deific title he briefly held before his death.
The Symbolism of it All
The creators of John Wick have made it clear that while they draw inspiration from certain mythologies and religious traditions, looking for a one-to-one comparison is a fool’s game. There is a lot of interesting small touches as we have explored before, but looking too deep would be pointless.
Director Chad Stahelski has said: “We tried to plug [a mythological template] in, but it didn’t quite fit. So we pick and choose. It’s more about the process of the story… Look John Wick isn’t rocket science…We try to take the interesting parts and tell the story and worry more about the telling than what it ‘is’.”
The mythology is not about deep allegory, but rather an allusion used to effectively heighten the cinematic reality of the Wickverse. That quality of being recognizable-but-different permeates these films and make them fun to watch and talk about.
So now that I’ve justified myself, let’s look at how Greek and Roman mythology is weaved and remixed with Catholic imagery to add a rich unspoken backstory to the D’Antonios.
The D’Antonios are Dionysus
As I have said the D’Antonios, particularly Gianna, represent a god of wine. The most well-known being Dionysus/Bacchus. The myths of Dionysus are kind of a mess, probably because his followers were hot drunk messes.
The D’Antonio siblings represent two halves of the godess of wine.
Most myths present Dionysus with a sort of duality, stemming from a myth where he was “born twice”. Once the natural way when Zeus knocked up his mom (and then killed her) and then again later from Zeus’ thigh. This duality permeates his myth, as he is both ecstatic-celebration as well as angry-madness. Early myths extended this duality to give him both masculine and feminine traits.
As such the D’Antonio siblings represent two halves of the god of wine.
One of the particular abilities of Dionysus was his ability to travel to the underworld to rescue people. With the help of Theseus, Dionysus traveled to the underworld and rescued his mother. This is paralleled and reversed in John Wick. Santino, as angry vengeful Dionysus, demands John’s help to kill his feminine half and in doing so drags John back to the underworld.
This isn’t the only reversal/perversion of a myth, however, as:
Santino D’Antonio is Saint Anthony
This isn’t a super deep insight considering his name literally translates to “Little Saint Anthony”, but bear with me.
Saint Anthony is known as the patron saint of “lost” things. This extends from lost objects and people to more abstract things like faith and lost souls. The more extravagant miracles associated with him typically involve St.Anthony restoring people to full health including those that had formerly been dead.
Again we have an entity that traditionally pulls things out of the underworld, instead clawing John back down.
What Does This Mean For John Wick?
The D’Antonio siblings are adorned with the myths of beings that recover people and things and can transport people between life and the underworld. The fact that they served to bring John back to hell can only mean one thing:
John belongs in Hell.
His foray into a “life” free from the underworld was a fluke. He was lost from where he belongs and was being returned. John is not dealing with saints and gods, but rather demons and devils.
And he is one of them. The John Wick series is not about salvation, at least so far, it is about going home and facing your demons.
A Glimmer of Hope
There is part of the Dionysus myth that offers hope to John. According to GreekMythology.com:
“His return to life was symbolically echoed in viticulture, where the vines must be pruned back sharply, and then become dormant in winter for them to bear fruit.”
Perhaps by cutting back the old vines of power that the D’Antonios represented, John is creating a path to new growth and redemption. If not for himself, at least for a “better” world. Whatever that could possibly mean in the Wickverse.
Wild Speculative Theories
It’s still a John Wick fan essay so of course I have some wild theories about the D’Antonios and what they could mean for John in the sequels.
Theory 1: John is Performing a Funeral Mass in Reverse
So with the allusion to St.Anthony, anything Catholic becomes fair-game as far I’m as concerned. Besides, this theory is only slightly crazy.
The (extremely) basic parts of a funeral mass are as follows:
Liturgy of the Word
Liturgy of the Eucharist
In John Wick 1, John digs up and unearths a chest buried deep in the foundation of his house. This is unearthing of his past serves as a perversion of the burial rights and the last
John Wick 2 shows him draining the blood of Wine Goddess Gianna. Catholics closely associate wine with the blood of Jesus, and the 2nd half of the Eucharist is receiving the “blood of Christ” in the form of wine. Another perversion of the ritual.
John Wick 3 has John traveling to meet the coin maker who displays the original coin in an ornate glass holder. This is highly reminiscent of a monstrance, a vessel used to hold the Communion Host. The Host is given in the 1st half of the Eucharist as a symbol of the body of Christ. Here it used to hold a golden idol, another perversion.
Left: Monstrance Right: Gold Coin in Holder
If this theory holds up we would expect John to move into the Liturgy of the Word next, the last part being General Intercessions. If he continues with the pattern of moving backward and perverted, we would expect to see a theme of people invoking curses or harm against others. For example, we might hear a lot of “May you meet a horrid end, by John Wick’s hand I curse you” or something less stupid than that.
Theory 2: Killing The D’Antonios Destroyed John’s Last Chance at Freedom
Dionysus isn’t only the god of wine out there. Another god(s) was called Liber/Libera, literally “Free” in Latin. This god(s) explicitly had masculine and feminine counterparts and was closely associated with grapes, wine, and viticulture.
As the name suggests Liber and his counterpart Libera were also the gods of freedom and being free. This could mean we have another perversion of a myth, as the D’Antonios decidedly represent the inescapable ties John had to the Underworld. Or they could literally represent John’s only path to freedom.
Gianna is the Italian feminine form of the name John, suggesting John is killing himself by killing her. He may have had no choice in that death, but his impatience with the other half of the “freedom” god, i.e killing Santino, is what seals his fate.
He’s destroyed a means of his ensured freedom from the Underworld, the consequences of which are still playing out in the films.
originally posted at http://www.fancyasf.com/2021/08/03/the-drinks-of-john-wick-2-the-dantonios/
More on John Wick and mythology: https://www.tribality.com/2017/02/22/john-wick-and-mythology/