What “Excommunicado” Really Means In The John Wick Movies

What “Excommunicado” Really Means In The John Wick Movies

Summary

  • The term “excommunicado” in the John Wick universe is a reference to real-world excommunication, highlighting the religious connotations within the assassin network.
  • The meticulous worldbuilding in the John Wick series allows the audience to understand the complex makeup of the assassin world, making the consequences of “excommunicado” feel significant and threatening.
  • The use of religious references throughout John Wick, such as the symbolism and allusions, suggests that the assassin network operates more like a religious culture rather than just a transactional system. Dishonoring the contract results in excommunication from this “religion.”

On its face, the meaning of “excommunicado” is obvious in John Wick, but the term and its origins carry deeper implications. The gradual worldbuilding of John Wick is one of the series’ greatest triumphs. By starting out with a small-scale revenge story of John Wick visiting violence upon a local gang boss, the series is able to slowly introduce more and more of the assassin world’s complex makeup with each film. As the rules and mechanics become more and more clear, so too do the deeper meanings behind them.

What "Excommunicado" Really Means In The John Wick Movies
John Wick

It’s only thanks to this triumph of methodical worldbuilding that John Wick 2’s “excommunicado” feels so consequential. By the end of the second film, the scope and scale of John Wick’s world has been so meticulously laid out, that the notion of this apparatus turning against John poses a grave threat. Excommunicado comes into effect when an assassin breaks one of the crime world’s cardinal rules, such as killing someone on the “consecrated ground” of the Continental Hotel, as John does in John Wick 2’s ending. However, the religious roots of the word give the act even more consequence and support the enduring principle behind John Wick’s meticulous worldbuilding.

John Wick’s “Excommunicado” Is A Reference To Real-World Excommunication

In the John Wick universe, excommunicado is taken directly from the Latin word for excommunication. The use of Latin is one of many ways the world of John Wick alludes to the antiquity of the assassin system. Excommunication is a religious term that has been in use for centuries. While it is a feature of many faiths, it is most heavily associated with Christianity in the West. The word refers to being excluded from communion, entailing a restriction from receiving holy sacraments, or communing with other members of the community. While it’s extremely difficult to undo excommunicado in John Wick, a religious excommunication can generally be redeemed through repentance.

The Deeper Meaning Behind “Excommunicado” In John Wick

John Wick is not coy with its religious references. The series is rich with both symbolic imagery, such as the scene in John Wick wherein a red halo paints him as an angel of death, as well as religious allusions baked into the world of John Wick. The Ruska Roma organization treats a Catholic rosary as a “ticket” that can be redeemed for safe passage,and the Continental uses the term “consecrated ground” to refer to the hotel’s no-killing rule. It’s the pervasiveness of these in-world terms that clarifies the assassin world’s choice of the word, “excommunicado.

The religious connotation of excommunicado supports the idea that the John Wick assassin network is closer to a religion than a transactional system. It’s true that there is still transaction in the form of John Wick’s gold coins, but John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum explains that the coins do not have a fixed value; rather, they are representations of a social contract. The entire world of John Wick, from tickets, to the Continental’s rules, to markers, all relies on the faith that others will honor the contract. This reliance on faith makes John Wick’s assassin world a religious culture; thus, anyone who dishonors that contract is excommunicated from the religion.

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