Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty
Keanu Reeves is everywhere right now. He’s popping up in rom-coms and Toy Story sequels and action movies that are way better than they have any right to be. He’s spouting sage wisdom about the nature of mortality on nightly talk shows. He’s officially the internet’s boyfriend even though he swears, somewhat unconvincingly, that he had no idea we’re so obsessed with him. People are even praising the man’s hover hands. He can do no wrong.
How do these things happen, anyway? We can call it a Keanaissance, but that’s not quite accurate. He would have had to go away to have a renaissance, and Reeves never exactly disappeared. The man has been a constant presence in our popular culture for almost three decades, but aside from his brief explosions of action movie stardom in the mid-90s and early 2000s, he was relegated to the periphery of our attention—at best, a cult favorite; at worst, an overrated actor whose chops mostly just involved various line readings of the word “whoa.” We all knew he was there. We just didn’t totally care most of the time.
For the majority of his career, Reeves’s understated charm and emotional stillness felt incongruous to his level of celebrity: What’s the dude’s deal? Why’s he so mellow all the time? Is he dumb or deep or just boring?
Because aren’t our celebrities supposed to be bigger and louder than we could ever be? Shouldn’t they embody a more extreme version of our humanity, to live lives simultaneously more lavish and more depressing than we ever could, so we can live vicariously from a safe distance or something? Aren’t they supposed to skyrocket to fame and then crash terribly and periodically challenge one another to MMA fights for no discernible reason? If not, what are we going to make biopics about?
But now, suddenly, we seem to have collectively awakened to the fact that Keanu Reeves is a different kind of celebrity—and that’s exactly what we love about him. It takes a certain type of genius to be able to maintain an air of mystery in a world where the apps on your phone sell information about where you go everyday, and Keanu has exactly that. The man has perfected that delicate balance between public and private, the balance that we’re all constantly struggling to maintain ourselves.
GQ put it best, in a feature last April:
He’s determined to act like a normal person, even though his mere presence creates an atmosphere of unreality, and it’s helped him pull off the nearly impossible feat of remaining an enigmatic cult figure despite having been an A-list actor for decades.
But here’s the thing: If we really want to celebrate Keanu Reeves for his undying Keanu Reeves-ness, we should let him maintain this enigmatic persona. And that means obsessing less about him jumping on tables at Pixar or whether his laugh actually sounds like that or whatever. We need to give the guy a little space, everybody. Pay less attention. We’ve got to let Keanu just Keanu, because all this constant Keanu mania will eventually make us forget why we love the man in the first place.
We appreciate the guy most when we aren’t expecting it. We want to be surprised when he, uh, happens to appear in a sacred photo on a restaurant wall, holding up a jar of tomato sauce. We want to be caught off guard when he randomly gives some people a tour of Bakersfield, California. That’s what makes him great.
Keanu’s particular celebrity is best served in small, unsuspecting doses. He’s some kind of bearded, bizarro Bill Murray figure in that way. And there’s a reason why the world is still making star-struck documentaries about Bill Murray urban legends, while our exhaustion has set in with someone like, Jeff Goldblum, a man who burned through whatever mythic zaddy cred he gained in his old age with incessant Instagram posts and albums of piano jazz tunes. Murray knows when to slip back into the shadows, and we know how to let him. Keanu should be able to do the same. There can be too much of a good thing.