Mythology

Baba Yaga in John Wick: Did They Get It Right?

Baba Yaga in John Wick

First, before we start with this article, I would like to scream from the top of my lungs: SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen John Wick, watch it first, and then come back to this article.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start!

John Wick is one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time [1]. The popularity of the movies (3 of them, at the time of writing) propelled Keanu Reeves (who plays the titular John Wick) back to the mainstream.

Amazing action scenes, the physicality of the stunt doubles, and the actors themselves, as well as great directing by Chad Stahelski, were all responsible for the success of this movie franchise [2].

I personally loved the movie and found it a great watch for a “night out with the boys.” But, I also found some problems in regards to John Wick being referred to and compared to Baba Yaga in some scenes. Why? Let me tell you…

Key Takeaways

  • The character of John Wick is played by Keanu Reeves. 
  • Baba Yaga is a mythical character from Slavic folklore and is also a nickname that the Russians gave to John Wick.
  • Babayka is a night spirit, often used by Slavic parents to scare children into going to bed.

A Little Bit About John Wick

John Wick is a retired hitman who decided to change his “murderous ways” and settle down. He fell in love and got married to a beautiful woman. Unfortunately for John, his wife died from cancer, leaving him only with memories of their past and a dog.

A group of thugs decided to mess with John. They stole his car and murdered his dog. Couple that with the recent passing of his wife, and you get one of the best high-paced action movies of this decade.

Now, John Wick is forced to go back to his “old ways” and get revenge for his dog (and maybe he can retrieve his stolen car?).

The Story of Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is one of the most famous characters from Slavic mythology. She is depicted as an old woman that lives in a house that stands on chicken legs. In some Slavic stories, she is evil, while in others, she is presented as a helpful character.

She is often used as a way to scare Slavic children into behaving properly. Misbehaving kids are taken by Baba Yaga, never to be seen again. 

If you want to know more about Baba Yaga, be sure to check out the article linked above, but as far as the John Wick movies are concerned, this is all the information you’ll need to understand my gripes with them. 

Baba Yaga in the Movie

In the movie, John Wick is in some scenes referred to by his assassin name – Baba Yaga. Why is that? The film gives us a brief explanation that I, as a Slavic person, have a couple of problems with. 

They call him Baba Yaga because he comes in the night. His skills as an assassin are mythical, making John Wick a mythical creature, just like Baba Yaga. And, well, that’s about it.

So, to recap, John Wick is called Baba Yaga because he kills his prey during the night and is so good at it that to the point that he is considered a mythical creature. 

Lastly, for this part of the article, in the movie, Baba Yaga is translated as boogeyman (which is in itself another problem, but we’ll get there). 

Did They Get It Right?

Baba, translated from the Russian language, means grandmother, grandma, or an old woman (see where I am going with this?). John Wick is anything but an old woman. 

The “Yaga” part is much harder to explain. You could look at it as the name of the “baba,” making the translation from Russian something like an old woman named Yaga. 

If you want to allow for more space and different interpretations, Baba Yaga can mean an old witch. Now, do you see the problem? An old witch is not in any way, shape or form similar to a boogeyman (which is the translation for Baba Yaga, used in the movie).

The screenwriter, Derek Kolstad, had a couple of things to say about this, but none of them were even close to admitting his mistake. Billions of dollars are on the line, so I get it. 

But, that’s why I am here, as a Slavic person, to explain to you the mistake that he made and why he made it. And, it all starts with a creature from Russian mythology called babayka.

Before I start talking about babayka, I would be remiss not to mention that for people who are not of Slavic origin, the difference in spelling between Babayka and Baba Yaga would be difficult to spot. 

Add to that the Russian alphabet, and you’ve probably figured out the reason behind this obvious mistake. 

Who or What was Babayka?

Babayka or Babay is a spirit of the night from Slavic Folklore (kind of like John Wick is a spirit of the night as well, don’t you think?). 

Babyka’s “job” was to abduct children who are not sleeping. Metaphorically, children who are not sleeping are up to no good (they do bad things). And babayka’s whole thing was to stop and get rid of misbehaving kids (and he did that during the night just like John).

Babayka doesn’t have a physical form, but instead, he takes the shape of the “worst nightmare” of the person it’s stalking in the night (kind of like John Wick is the worst nightmare for his enemies, right?).

Babayka, just like bogeyman (the word they used to translate Baba Yaga in the film), can sometimes hide under the bed and wait for its prey (just like John Wick).

And, lastly, unlike Baba Yaga, Babayka is a man (just like John Wick is). 

To conclude, as someone who is of Slavic origins, the mistakes in the movie (as far as John Wick’s nickname Baba Yaga goes) were obvious. But, do these mistakes make a movie less entertaining? 

The answer to that is absolute no! The movie is extremely fun to watch and has a high entertainment value. And, as a Slavic person, I am glad that Hollywood has dipped its toes into the world of Slavic folklore (even though they got a couple of things wrong).

The Bottom Line

Keanu Reeves and his portrayal of John Wick is amazing in many different ways. From the way he manages to kill a whole bunch of Russian gangsters to the emotional flashbacks about his deceased wife (Keanu is really good in this movie).

After “Gladiator,” John Wick is easily the best flick for a “boys night out.” The action is there. Amazing stunts are there, and there is also a little bit of a story (but not too much, so don’t worry). 

Sources
  1. https://celebanswers.com/how-much-did-keanu-reeves-earn-for-the-john-wick-movies/#:~:text=
  2. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0821432/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

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Meet the Slavs

Posts by the Meet the Slavs Team.

Meet the Slavs is your most comprehensive online resource about Slavic people, their cuisine, culture, history, mythology, and more.

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