Artwork by Ameena
The present hard sell of actor Keanu Reeves cannot escape without mentioning his immortality. Because, did you know that Keanu is FIFTY YEARS OLD? Most interviews these days obsess over his preserved looks, his lack of pensioner qualities and his total agelessness. In the 1988 movie, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, two brainless dudes travel back in time, throughout named historical spots in a bid to pass their history class. Fans know that the main takeaway from this film is the frequent use of stunningly iconic catchphrases that are simply WORDS such as ‘Excellent!` and ‘Bodacious’. I’m in love with this word ‘excellent’ – reserved only for thing that are ABOVE great, totally flawless. The fact that it is so casually used to describe their adventure is so threatening, the constant pressure to make it better than anything else in their lives. Of course, Bill and Ted are so below excellent regarding their grades that Ted’s father wants to send him to military school!
To me, Bill and Ted is largely philosophical, providing answers about LIFE, but more importantly, CURRENT LIFE, and how it headbutts you into a place where the past is simply better than anything right now. I am happy to view Bill and Ted as a significant piece in our obsession with nostalgia. It is meta in all sorts of ways – Keanu Reeves never visually ages thus our world demands that he remain okay-ish looking forever – imagine Keanu Reeves getting a WRINKLE, just imagine the Daily Mail headlines. (Shockingly enough, no one is willing to consider the explanation that the dude might’ve had surgery but that’s a sexist double standard reserved for another day.J)
Back in time – through their own fashionable Tardis time machine, our two lovable friends were on a high, fighting knights and finding Socrates in Greece (“it’s under So-crates”). So naturally their comedown is as proportionately depressing. There’s this closing scene when the two are back to their real life, playing their instruments all wrong and Ted seems genuinely concerned about nothing changing.
“We went back in time, we passed History…and nothing’s changed”, he says. You want to scream “well of course nothing is going to be as perfect as the past, the chance to manipulate your own destiny with the new knowledge of knowing what’s going to happen”. Bill and Ted is fantastic and funny at this, it almost becomes a big laugh at the logistics of time travel movies. Stuck at a police station, trying to secretly bail out their new historical friends, the two are trying to distract Ted’s Dad, who is the local police officer. They concoct a plan, stating that one will remind the other later that they must go into the future and plant a tape recorder with Ted speaking so as to confuse his Dad. Time is completely ridiculed here- borrowing things from the future so as to make the present more bearable is another way to mess up their own chronology.
For Keanu Reeves himself, his role as Ted stands as the most animated we will ever see him. By contrast though, take Speed (1994) which envelopes in this concept of time chasing after Jack (played by Reeves), a rookie cop facing the vengeful wrath of a terrorist who’s mad that his last attack did not go to plan. Reeves’ voice, like always in his later movies, is often soft and occasionally transparent – it is hard not to dismiss him as an actor. To say he is the star of the film would be a quiet lie. Meanwhile, the more active and dramatic bus-driver Annie (played by Sandra Bullock) is seen as a victim, exhibiting some clueless signs that beg her to be saved by Jack but instead, she is this fantastic heroine, saving the day with her dangerous driving. Relentlessly, we are shown a kind of non-sensual intimacy between the two. Jack – busy directing passengers and TRYING to save the day – would grab the steering wheel or steps on her foot so she increases acceleration or even randomly rub her head with his shirt to cover a bleed. From the moment we see them meet, it is not entirely obvious that the two are going to be love interests because how might that realistically be possible in this highly stressful situation? But of course, it takes nothing less than the shared experience of a day’s hellish bus ride to bring the two together!
In one of the most thrilling beginnings, he races across the freeway with a believable determination to save this load of passengers. In one of his most emotive scenes, Jack hijacks a convertible, working constantly to catch up with this bus. Eventually, a note stating ‘BOMB ON BUS’- led by Jack and his new passenger, drops amicably onto the bus’ windscreen; this is probably the reason I stuck with this movie because stylistically – the score, the tension, even the DIALOGUE (surprisingly) – impressed me to an extent of which I am embarrassed.
Speed is completely correct about time. Time is fragile, it’s limited. You cannot rely on time. It is what makes the world go around and schedules everything. It means everything to the terrorist and his ticking bomb. To borrow a phrase from the brilliant ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ time is ‘blasting us all in the ass’. Not only that, but numbers in general – the speed of the bus must stay above 50mph. Any less than that then you can forget about your time altogether baby because your time is UP! The bomber watches from his bunker of television screens, monitoring Jack’s heroic actions from news networks reporting the story. Time is totally fake, it’s meaning extremely powerful – watch this story unfold on TV seconds after it happens. He remarks: ‘Interactive TV…it’s the wave of the future!’ But for Jack, of course, the future is totally miserable. He either dies or is responsible for the deaths of innocent people or he stays alive, still pretty traumatised like his ex-partner who is shot in the leg earlier on and confined to the office. In fact, time has not helped Jack at all. In the past – he angered the terrorist by outsmarting him in the previous attack and in the present – this nightmare journey. The future – total uncertainty.
And again, consider Keanu Reeves’ current status in pop culture. He preserves his appearance, shutting down any comparisons with other actors of the same age because we don’t consider him as aged. He doesn’t invite paternalistic nicknames, his time remains at literally 50, much like the miles per hour limit in his last great (no offence!) movie SPEED. If THAT coincidence wasn’t cheesy enough, allow the following conclusion to take seat next to it– like his characters Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and Officer Jack Traven, time – in all of its complexity – is a constant battle, a chance to manipulate his own destiny. Who’s to deny that the biggest strength of Reeves’ skills is his youthful looks? Because, look, Keanu Reeves is not the greatest actor, admittedly, but he constantly represents this image that time is ultimately, fake. You can manipulate it (Bill and Ted) or you can stay caught up in it (Speed) Most of all, you are trying to BEAT it, to save yourselves from the horrors of ‘real’ life. EXCELLENT.