Friday, February 17, 2017

Ex Communicado: John Wick Chapter 2, Or, Reflections On the Soul

N.B.--I am posting this post, but it's not done; there is ample material still left to add to the captions of images, but I wanted to at least get something up. When you no longer see this note, the post is as finished as I will be capable of finishing it. Thank you for your patience, and I am sorry it's taking so long.
Welcome to the spiritual life, my friend. Every film operates on at least two levels all or most of the time: the physical world and the spiritual world. Few films, however, are as intensely aware of operating on both levels, and do it so consistently throughout their narrative--and take great pains to communicate to its audience that it is doing so--as John Wick Chapter 2. Why is this important? Because it validates there is a message within the film, and validates our effort of engagement to decode what that message is. In this particular poster, for example, all guns are pointed at Wick's head; why? The head symbolizes our "governing function," such as the "head of government," and the head is the most important part of the body. The guns point to Wick's head because Wick has been able to "govern himself," as Abram says in the opening sequence regarding Wick's focus, commitment and sheer will power, and those virtues means the forces of evil can't overcome Wick because Wick has fortressed himself with those virtues. On the spiritual level, all demons (the assassins) want to kill John Wick because there is a $7 million dollar reward for him; "7 million" is divided into two different symbolic numbers: there is the "7" and there is the "million." Seven always symbolizes perfection, or, in opposite terms, total depravity. Since John Wick survives to the end of the film, instead of dying, and because he is the hero, then the $7 million contract Santino puts out on John Wick means that Santino recognizes John Wick as "perfection" and it will take "perfection" from the demons to destroy John Wick. The assassins, of course, are not literal demons, they are, however, metaphorical demons, or "tools" used by Satan to break down John Wick so the devil can collect Wick's soul (it's okay, all this is explained below). So, what does the "million" represent? Any multiple of "10" is divine perfection, it means the work of God has been brought to completion. By the end of the film, there is a $14 million contract on Wick, which means God has opened another work he He is going to bring to completion (Chapter 3). It takes me a while to get to this in the body of the post, but, as you read, note that John Wick makes two important mistakes at the start of the film: he doesn't kill Abram (the uncle of the kid who stole Wick's car in JW, and then Wick buries his clothes, coins and guns in the basement again (more on that below). Why? In case Wick needs them again, and that's "an open door policy," in other words, a part of Wick is ready to go back to the life, although he would rather not. 
Ex communicado.
"Out of communication."
There is significant word play in this phrase, because it's a sentence, as in, a punishment, but the "sentence" is a form of communication which has now been outlawed with that person who has so been sentenced. Please note, every spoiler is contained in this post, and you do not want to know the spoilers before seeing John Wick Chapter 2, so please, for yourself, see the film first, then read the post, then go see the film again,... and again,.... because no matter how many times any of us see it, we will pick up something new we didn't catch the last time, it's that good.
(Please click on this, or any of the other images below to enlarge). It's imperative to the understanding of the film that we notice that the art exhibit in the museum towards the end, the place of the final battle, is called Reflections On the Soul.  The exhibit is all glass and lights; why? Because glass symbolizes "reflection" (our ability to meditate on our actions and interior life) and light symbolizes inspiration and wisdom (knowledge which we attain but could not be obtained on our own merits or understanding). What we see in this climatic scene then, is the not-so-subtle translation of spiritual warfare within our souls: we have to "kill them, kill them all" as Wick says at the end of the film; who are we killing? Those forces of evil who lurk in our souls, like the assassins lurking in the exhibit. Reflection and light are there to both help us, but also there to wound us: unless we understand how reflection/meditation can go bad (not seeing ourselves correctly, but exaggerating our traits, for example) and how we can be mislead by light rather than led by light (for example, thinking God has inspired us to do something when it was actually coming from the devil) then we can become trapped and lose the battle. EVERYTHING IN THE FILM IS AN EXTENSION OF THIS ART EXHIBIT, which is why we hear the computerized female narrator at the museum twice saying, Welcome to the Reflections On the Soul. What exactly does Wick prove/learn from this experience? That each of the assassins hunting him is a part of him, that's the purpose of the mirrors, so that as Wick sees the assassins, he's seeing himself and the man he used to be, but is trying not to be anymore. John Wick (just like the rest of us) continually has to undergo a process of "conversion," the recognition that, "I haven't come far enough, there is still so far to go, and if I don't go further, I'm going to start falling behind." The spiritual life is an active life, it's not a life about "retirement" (which is what everyone wants John Wick to do), rather, if we are not fighting the spiritual battle, we are losing the spiritual battle.
On a slightly different note, apart from Wick himself, the most important character in the film is Winston; why? It's not that Winston is a "God figure," rather, it's through Winston that we learn the grand scheme of what's going on, we get, in other words, a "God's Eye perspective." For example, when Winston collects Wick's payment confirmation from Santino for Wick's marker, Winston tells Santino how Wick had a glimpse of what was on the other side of the assassin's life, and Santino took it away from Wick. This is true, but it's not also entirely true. God always works in "pairs," the first which is presented to us by God  is good, but the second which God presents is far better (I could provide examples, but I'm not going to digress more). Wick's life with Helen was the "good" which Jesus Christ tempted Wick, but Jesus will offer Wick something even better after Wick fulfills these trials, so yes, Santino took it away from Wick (when Wick asked Santino not to collect his marker--more on this below) but God allowed Santino to do it. Remember, Jesus (and we see both the cross tattooed on Wick's back, and the mural on the soup kitchen wall at the Bowery King's that says, "Jesus Saves," so this is a relevant point) Jesus Christ is a "fisher of men," and like any fisherman going to catch fish, Jesus uses bait, and the bait to hook Wick was Helen. Wick "got out"of the assassins' lifestyle, but Wick left an "open door" to go back by giving that marker to Santino and Wick promising he would help Santino do something in exchange. God knew all this was happening, and so Helen dying was God's punishment on Wick for not trusting in God to get Wick out of the assassins' life where Wick was when God called Wick to conversion and instead Wick relying on Santino.
On a very different note, the lights, mirrors and art in this exhibit validate the encoding mechanisms being used throughout the film: there aren't any actual souls on display in the exhibit, but the light and mirrors are metaphors to discovering the soul within us, "images of self," as the female narrator puts it in the film as characters enter the exhibit; likewise, different elements of the film will also provide means by which we can reflect upon our souls through the journey of John Wick.
Most people are going to assume that the status of ex communicado is the same as ex communication, and deduce it means "to be cut off from or put out of the community," and that John Wick is no longer a member of the assassin's guild, league, union, or whatever structured organization it is, but that phrase describing that state is ex communicare; ex communicado is, however, more severe, for at least two reasons.
(Please click on this, or any of the other images, to enlarge). When Wick makes it to his car, the gestures Wick uses, the way he walks and "gets by" the thugs standing guard, is echoed in Rome after Wick finished with Gianna and Wick gets back to the Catacombs where his escape route is; why? As I explain below, because Wick didn't do what he was supposed to do in getting his car back with Abram, Wick now has to endure the far greater trial of killing Gianna, and by mirroring these two scenes, the film makers want us to keep that in mind. When Wick finds his car, covered with the tarp (lower left image) it's like a body bag covering it; why? Because Wick is dead like a cadaver covered with a body bag in the morgue (don't believe me? Remember when Wick wakes up after telling Earl to take him to see the Bowery King, and the guys Earl killed are in bags beside Wick, but Wick is alive and bandaged; again, that scene is being played out because Wick fails to kill Abram, so Wick has to go through it all again with Santino). There are a few important visual elements we have in this opening fight sequence which we must note. First, the assassins working for Abram drive taxis, as we see in the lower-right image. Wick owns the Mustang he retrieves, it's his car, but a taxi--like a hotel room--is a temporary vehicle you don't own, you just use. This is one indication that the assassins working for Abram, and hence, working against John Wick, are demons: the world evil builds here on earth is temporary, whereas the world of the Christian, the world of the spiritual warrior, is being built in the next world, where there is eternal permanence. Please remember this point as we discuss Gianna and Santino below, because they have built up a world of temporary power at the expense of their immortal souls (remember, it's Gianna who asks Wick if he's afraid of "damnation," and Wick replies, "Yes"). In this warehouse fight scene, the numerous windows signal "reflection" and meditation, that is, not just Wick's own meditation upon what he's doing, but for us, the audience, to reflect on what is truly happening in the narrative as well. Then, there is all the water we see, especially on the floor where the character's feet are in the water (again, lower-right image, we can see the assassin and Wick, as well as the yellow taxis reflecting in the ground water). When Abram tells his right hand man about John Wick, and describes how awesome Wick is, Abram uses the description about Wick's "focus, commitment and sheer will" to achieve whatever it is Wick sets himself out upon to accomplish, and these are the same virtues required of the spiritual life. So, if we fail to engage with the opening scene, we aren't going to be capable of engaging with the rest of the film.
When the film first opens, we look at the city from numerous angles; we then see what looks to be like an old, silent film playing on the side of one of the buildings, with noise added for the crashing effects, but then we realize that the sound is "off" and the noises aren't aligning with the action sequences,.... then we see the real car chase taking place. What's the point of that silent film moment? That's a proper introduction to how to watch the film: part of the film is going to be "off," or not make sense, unless we realize that we are seeing one thing (like the silent film on the building) and hearing something different (the real car chase taking place). This was a favorite device of Alfred Hitchcock's in some of his mid-career films, such as North By Northwest and Torn Curtain: we are watching one show, like in the art auction in North By Northwest, but the "real drama" is taking place with what is happening to Cary Grant's character. So, in JWC2, what the "sub-text" denoting the real drama taking place? First, it's the religious meaning: people are far more willing to "take in" a religious sermon if they don't realize they are taking in a religious sermon. Wick's journey in the film is about the spiritual warfare in which his soul is engaged, yet there is also the additional political commentary we can find, specifically regarding Gianna's coronation and murder by her brother (which we discuss below).
Now, we see a car hit the motorcyclist, and a pair of men's feet, in black shoes, socks and pants, get out and walk to the downed cyclist and take out an entry card. Why is this the first image we see of John Wick? Feet, as we know, symbolize the will, because our feet take us to where we want to go the way our will drives us towards what it is we want in life. We also know that the color black signifies death: there is good death and bad death. Good death is being dead to things of the world, to our appetites and worldly ambitions, but alive in faith, hope and charity. Bad death is when we are dead in our souls to faith, hope and charity, but we are alive to our worldly ambitions and appetites. We know John Wick is trying to "get out" of the assassin life where he was the best of the best, so John being "alive" to his worldly appetites isn't a fitting interpretation. Because of what we do see Wick do, it makes better sense that Wick is alive to the spiritual life, and it's because he is alive to the spiritual life that the demons trying to take down his soul attack him.
It's fitting that we see Wick's feet first because Wick's car, like his feet, symbolizes (somewhat) his will: any vehicle in any time period will symbolize the Holy Spirit "energizing" you to follow your path in life. In other words, we become the vehicle for the Holy Spirit, so when those thugs steal Wick's car in John Wick, what has symbolically happened is that they have stolen the Holy Spirit's ride. Wick's wife has died, and so Wick is ripe for a spiritual battle because he's down, and the demons come to collect. The Holy Spirit has a different plan, because Helen was never the Holy Spirit's final reward for Wick, rather, Helen was just the bait (we discuss this further below, too).  Did you notice, dear reader how, when Wick drives the car that Wick looks too big for the car? Or, rather, the car looks too small for Wick? That is an incredible detail that all ready tells us what is going to happen: because John Wick has so successfully won the war being waged against him, the Holy Spirit all ready has the next battle prepared because John Wick has "grown" so much during the events we have seen heretofore, so the Holy Spirit can make John Wick an even better man, even as Wick has all ready decided he will establish peace with Abram (more on this in this same caption, but a bit below).
THIS IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT: how do we know that the assassins in the film are "demons" and not just assassins? There are two ways: first, the way the assassins themselves are presented, and secondly, because the art exhibit towards the end is called Reflections On the Soul, and it's upon the soul that demons wage war. First of all, the motorcyclist Wick crashes into in the opening sequence has no face: he wears a helmet, covering his identity, and the curse of demons is that, because they were enslaved to their appetites, they lost their identity, as opposed to angels who, because of their love for God being greater than love of self, they enhanced their identity even more so they became even more differentiated from one another, thereby, gaining a greater sense of dignity and individuality (this is important for the very last scene of the film, so please keep this on your back burner). But not all the assassins are faceless, you object, and you are right in pointing that out; however, art--in all of its forms, especially in film--economizes quite well, which means that the symbolic nature of a character need be established only once, and that is done throughout John Wick and at the start and ending of John Wick Chapter 2. Remember in John Wick what the tagline was? "That nobody!?" "That 'nobody' was John Wick." "Nobody" refers to somebody with no identity; "John Wick" refers to someone with a singular identity. Do you remember the names of the Russians who stole Wick's car in the first film? No, no one does, but do you remember the name "John Wick?" Of course you do. In still more other words, the demons in the first film (the ones without a memorable identity) have now becomes demons with no identity because the demons are more severe and difficult to overcome (we'll discuss this below with Wick's house blowing up).
As stated above, the devil has robbed Wick of his direction in life (cars and other vehicles are to us what horses were in Biblical and Medieval times when they were also metaphors of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit carries us through life, and provides us with the path we are to take) so when Wick walks into Abram's office and drinks a peace offering with him, Wick "makes peace with his demons" and that is a mistake for which Wick pays throughout the entire film. How do we know? There are at least two ways: first, because of what the name "Abram" means, and secondly, because Santino accuses Wick of thinking Wick is "Old Testament" towards the end of the film, right before Wick blows Santino's forehead off. First, "Abram refers to the Biblical patriarch Abraham before God called him "Abraham." So, "Abram" means "high father," not because the character Abram himself is a "high father," but because that is what Wick would have earned for himself had he vanquished the one who contributed to stealing his car, in other words, by completing the "holy war" in which Wick had to engage to once again get his car/direction in life back, Wick would have "assumed" being the "high father" for himself (so the exact opposite of being assumed to the "High Table" like what Santino wants for himself). This is a tricky metaphor to offer, but at least on a shallow level, think of spiritual warfare like this: just as in a video game, the "hero" will get points when the hero vanquishes different degrees of enemies, so, too, in the spiritual life, when we vanquish temptations and demons trying to kill us, we gain strength and resources we can use in future battles against even more difficult demons and temptations; it's not that life and spiritual warfare mimic video games, rather, video games mimic and codify the spiritual life and the battles of the soul. Because Wick failed to vanquish Abram, he is like King Saul of the Old Testament who failed to vanquish the enemies of God in holy way which is why, as we shall see, that Winston calls Wick "Jonathan," because Jonathan was the son of Saul, the king who was rejected by God. All of this has been so perfectly intertwined, if you don't understand something, I assure you, dear, good reader, it's my fault for not being as smart as the film and failing to properly communicate.
First, it's through his ability to communicate with people that helped John Wick get through the ordeals we as the audience witness in JWC2. Everyone in this line of work knows everything immediately, from their cell phones regularly giving them updates, to the good old stand-by carrier pigeon and the homeless security system of corner beggars. Communication is knowledge and knowledge is its own form of currency in this world (whether it's his friend calling to find out where Wick's car is, or the Bowery King knowing that Santino is at the museum, communication is key to survival).
Yea, bad day. Okay, so what is happening between John Wick and John Wick Chapter 2? Opening John Wick, Wick buries his wife, Helen (there is more on Helen below) and then he loses his car; JWC2, Wick gets his car back, then loses his house; why? We saw in The Conjuring II: the Enfield Poltergeist how the demons attacked the Hodgson family in London after the father and husband, Mr. Hodgson, left for another woman; Ed Warren explains to Mrs Hodgson that demons like to get us when we are down because the misery we feel makes it easier to distance us from God because our faith is wavering and we are all ready taking it upon ourselves to distance us from God because we have lost faith because God allowed something so bad to happen to us. In other words, we help the demons drag ourselves into hell willingly. That is exactly what happens in JW and JWC2 (please see Valak: The Conjuring 2 & the Demonizing Of White Men for more). The visualization of this image is perfection: remember, later in the film, when the Bowery King escorts Wick to the elevator and tells Wick that his "descent into hell begins here,"? That line echoes what happens right here, with Wick's house getting blown up during the night. It's night, and "night" symbolizes the Dark Night of the Soul when the soul journeys to union with God. REMEMBER, dear and gracious reader, that the art exhibit is called Reflections On the Soul and the mural we see in the soup kitchen when Wick is with the Bowery King that says, "Jesus Saves" on it, so this reading is not "out of line" with the narrative, rather, because of the silent film we see at the very beginning, the film encourages us to look for the "sub-text" within itself to understand the real drama taking place. Regarding this scene, we can rely upon the poetry of St John of the Cross to "ferry us" like Charon does with Wick at the end when Charon takes Wick to see Winston in the park. "In an obscure night/Fevered with love's anxiety/(O hapless, happy plight!)/I went, none seeing me/Forth from my house/where all things quiet be." You probably see a number of problems with lining up this poem to the events taking place in the image above, but we just need to talk through it. First of all, Wick's soul is indeed in a state of "obscurity" because of his retirement and no one thinking he's back (consider Jimmy the police officer asking Wick about him being "back") and "night" we can be sure of because the film makers have Santino enter the house when it's still light outside (please see the images below) but Wick's house explodes when it's night. There are two parts to the next line: "fevered" and "love's anxiety," because "love's anxiety" refers to what Wick will do without Helen filling his life, and the "fevered" refers to the sickness God allows to come over Wick so Wick will be led away from his temporal dependence upon Helen and her memory, and to God Himself (yea, we discuss this more with Helen below when Wick sits in the burned down house and he has the bracelet he had given her). The "happy plight" refers to the difficult situation souls discover: if they don't leave the house in which they are, they are bound to stay in the house and never achieve their union with God; if they want the union with God, they have to leave the house, and so it's a "happy plight," like the Children of Israel wandering the Wilderness for 40 years, because without that hardship, a greater reward and advantage could not be achieved. When Wick goes out, "none seeing me," we can argue that Jimmy the policeman sees Wick leaving the house, and of course, the pitbull is with him; but none see John Wick as God sees John Wick, what John Wick still has to become in order to fulfill himself. Wick goes "forth from my house" because hell still grows and lingers within Wick's soul. When John of the Cross writes, "where all things quiet be," we might think, yea, there is no way this relates to John Wick, look at the explosion of his house, right? Wrong. Before Santino arrives, it is all quiet: the car guy comes by and picks up the Mustang, Wick plays with the dog on the lawn and a tennis ball,... all is quiet as Wick's retirement (?) is going to be honored,... but it's not. There is a second condition to this "all is quiet" perception, namely, the rule of thumb in the spiritual life: if "all is quiet" it means one of two things: God provides the soul with a temporary respite to rest before the next battle, or the person has ceased fighting their demons and the demons win because they are allowed to make small, but steady gains over the soul that refuses to defend itself against them. When Wick makes peace with Abram, Wick quits before finishing the job and allows the rest of the demons to linger (which means we might see Abram later in the series). Santino later argues with Winston when Winston comes to collect Wick's marker that "Wick was all ready back in" the assassin's life, and, as we discuss below, this was only partially true.
Wick's house exploding is the most important visual in the film; why? Because it links to the most important dialogue in the film: Gianna: "Are you afraid of damnation?" Wick: "Yes." For a man who doesn't waste words, his quick response was the most surprising piece of information we have learned about Mr. Wick (there will be more on this below in the caption where we discuss Gianna's death). When we see Wick's house burning, that's a sign that Wick is damned: the massive fire rolling throughout the house, all the intense heat and the glass shattered everywhere, Wick is a man who is damned,... but he can still redeem himself. In John Wick, it wasn't that Wick lost his car and puppy, it's that he learned how demons would use him to destroy Wick's own life (stealing the car was using Wick himself to wreck havoc on the world, instead of Wick fighting his own spiritual battle, which is what he did). In Chapter 2, Wick doesn't lose his house, he realizes that his worst fear is coming true, namely, that because of all his sins, he is a damned man, and he has to save himself. Please, do not underestimate the importance of Wick telling Gianna that he's afraid of damnation, because that's the key to the whole trilogy, and why Wick has the tattoos on his back that he does. 
When John goes to see someone, he communicates his needs and they help him: consider his acquaintances in Rome, the tailor, the sommelier, the keeper of the maps and Julius (owner of the Roman Continental Hotel) as well as Winston and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). So, even with just this first part of the sentence of ex communicado, John Wick is in serious trouble,...
But it gets worse,...
We don't spend much time at John Wick's house in either film, and since Winston calls it the "temple" of the priest when collecting Wick's marker, the three events taking place here are significant. First, Aurelio, the car guy who is friends with Wick and helped Wick locate the Mustang, details for the audience everything wrong with Wick's car: "And I don't know if you noticed, but there's a crack in your windshield," because the crack in the car windshield signifies that Wick can't properly see where the Holy Spirit wants to lead him (the windshield is glass, so it symbolizes reflection, and the car is Wick's vehicle, as Wick is meat to be the vehicle of the Holy Spirit); this isn't Wick's fault, it's human nature. We tend to resist the incredible journey of transformation God demands of us all, and the validation for this interpretation is when Aurelio says, "I can fix it. It'll be ready by Christmas,... 2030." Christmas, is of course, the birth of Christ, and the arrival of New Life and the Messiah; that Aurelio links the restoration of Wick's car to Christmas means that Wick himself should be fine by Christmas 2030, indicating the long process in his journey which Wick is to undergo. But more on that in a moment. The last detail of this scene is when Aurelio laments, "John, I thought you loved this car!" and then details the damage; why is this important? Because even though Wick loves his car (and was willing to go to extreme lengths to get it back) so, too, does the Holy Spirit love us and yet, is just as willing to allow us to suffer damage as Wick did to his car; but that is the case in point, isn't it? It was Wick who wrecked his car, not someone else, just as it's the Holy Spirit who will wreck us, not the devil. In other words, when we suffer, it's at the Hands of God, not of Satan, and it's because we are loved, but also because we need to be fixed.
The second important act Wick makes at his home is "burying" the hit man within him,... again." We didn't see the "first burial" in John Wick, but we see Wick uncovering the chest with the weapons and gold coins. Here, at the start of Chapter 2, we see Wick bury everything once more, and it does certainly look like a lonely funeral: coffin, cement and all. So what's the problem? It's still there. It's all still there for Wick if he needs, or wants, to use it again. It's like a smoker who keeps a pack around "just in case," arguing with their self they aren't going to smoke it, but it's there, "just in case." In this way, Santino was right: Wick will "always be that guy" as long as he has his gear around. Of course, we see how deeply invested Wick is in the life when, after the house blows up, he goes to the specialized bank run by the Hasidic Jews only to reveal he has another stash of hit man gear. So, how many stashes does John Wick have? You can't "get out" and expect that to be respected unless you are all out. Why am I arguing this point? Because it is, in fact, the whole point. John Wick never changed. He never really left "the life," but now, really is his chance to get out, once and for all.
In the image above, we see the third important event that happens at Wick's house: Santino's visit, of course. The walk down the hallway is a hallway filled with glass: because hallways "connect" different parts of a house, they are used as symbols for bridges, and the connections of different parts of our lives. This is the part, basically, where John Wick and John Wick Chapter 2 get connected, but it's also how these parts of Wick's life get connected. It's imperative to know that "Santino" means "Little Saint," and that's because, after Wick buries the guns, clothes and gold coins, the "little saint" comes knocking on his door: Revelation 3-20, "Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore, be earnest and repent. Behold, I stand at the door knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and him with me. To the one who is victorious, I will grant the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat with my Father on His throne." Santino. as we know, isn't a "little saint," and that's important for his character and the film: Santino was called to be a saint (we all are), but instead of choosing the ways of heaven, Santino chose the ways of the world, preferring a seat at the High Table instead of the Table of the Lord, so Santino orders his sister murdered. How is any of this holy? Gianna and Santino are both rotten apples, and they would have been horrific forces loosened upon the world if someone didn't stop them (and we will go into this more below with Gianna's death). Wick is the only one who is capable of stopping them, but there was no real reason for Wick to come back, unless God allowed Santino's ruthless and wretched sins to twist him so badly, that Santino wanted power more than he feared for his life from a vengeful John Wick. Just as we see Winston "protecting" Wick at the very end (Wick asks Winston why Wick is still alive and Winston replies, because I've allowed it, and then everyone in the park stops and looks at Wick, so Wick knows Winston's power) God has protected Wick throughout because Wick is doing God's work: ridding the world of Santino and Gianna. The events God allows Wick to endure are both in penance for Wick's sins and to make Wick a better man, as we shall continue exploring below. 
John Wick Chapter 2 clearly operates on both a mundane/political level, as well as a spiritual: John's sentence of no longer being able to communicate with allies in the world of assassins points to the real-world censorship taking place among white, heterosexual men in the US today who are the targets of Liberals and seek to dethrone white men as the dominant power-holders in the country (even the world) and the reason for that is just as spiritual: Liberals also want to overthrow God, and that's why John Wick's sentence of ex communicado is so severe: it's a sentence against John praying. But wait, you may think, John Wick never prays, not even once; I would like to suggest that, indeed, he does pray,...
John Wick's clothes are really important to him; how do we know this? We see him bury clothes, throw clothes away, and have specially tailored suits made. So, what does John Wick wear in this scene? The wedding garment. The all-black ensemble may look more like an undertaker's suit than a wedding garment, but in the case of John Wick, it's both. We see in the second act of the film, when Wick is at home in his basement and he buries his clothes, guns and gold coins, that it's like a funeral, but when Wick puts on these clothes, it's his own funeral, because what he does, he does not as his own will, but ultimately, as God's will, because God knows Wick won't stop at killing Gianna, God knows Wick will kill both of them, and that--in this context--is what the film makers want to communicate to us: Gianna, as a symbol of feminism and power in the hands of women, is just as ruthless as Santino and his power-grab for New York, which is going to displace everyone and cause horrible consequences (more on this below with Gianna's death). When Wick "agrees" to kill Gianna, Wick also agrees to kill Santino, and that's the way it has to be done, which is why Santino has his own hit men go to kill Wick after Wick kills Gianna, because Santino knows Wick will come after him next, as Winston spells out for him when Winston goes to collect Wick's marker.
The wedding garment of the soul: why is it all black? Black always symbolizes death, but there is "good death" and there is "bad death." "Good death" is when we are dead to things of this world, such as lust, drugs, power, wealth, etc., and instead alive to things of the next world, such as faith, hope, purity, charity, love and faith. "Bad death" is when we are dead to things of the next world (we are dead in faith, and dead in love) but we are alive to the things of this world (we seek power and wealth, for example). We know Wick isn't killing Gianna and Santino for his own sake, he didn't want anything to do with it and asked Santino not to call Wick's marker up for him to kill Gianna, but Santino did anyway. So, Wick is the undertaker for his own funeral, in that, it's not enough, as discussed above, to just bury his guns and gold coins beneath a cement slab--it's too easy for Wick to resurrect them--but Wick has to put to death that which is in him to no longer see it as possible to go back to this life, and at the end of Chapter 2, when Wick tells Winston that Wick will kill whoever comes for him, there is blood around the inside of Wick's collar (the neck symbolizes that which leads us, or which we allow to lead us, and the blood means that Santino's description of Wick's addiction to vengeance in the Reflections Of the Soul exhibit was accurate: blood is what guides Wick, at least at this point), meaning, that Wick's conversion is only half achieved, the rest of it is reserved for the next film, as we should have guessed. 
What is "prayer?"
It's our communication with God, His angels and His saints. When we use certain words and direct our thoughts and actions accordingly, "prayer" is a form of worship, as well as a means of request for help, guidance and intercession for prayers from others who have gone before us (such as the saints). If Winston were an ordained priest (or possibly he would have to be a bishop to perform the ex communicado sentence religiously) Wick, then, would be cut off from prayer: his prayers would not be allowed to reach heaven and entreat the Almighty for favor and forgiveness (I could be wrong about this, I know it's almost never used, even in the days when "standard" ex communication was used, ex communicado wasn't used then because it's so severe). Since Winston isn't an ordained priest, this doesn't apply, but Wick is in the opposite position: Wick now must pray, because a prayer is the only thing he has left.
We saw this "ritual" of John's in John Wick as well: his showering before going to kill someone, as if he's cleaning his hands of the bloodshed to come before he sheds the blood because the spilling of the blood is "not on his hands," his hands are clean, and this is a sentence they have brought upon themselves (this is a bit different with Gianna slitting her wrists and getting into her bath, but we will discuss that in the caption below). It's important to remember that on Wick's left shoulder, he has another tattoo: the Cross (please see Specialized Waste Disposal: John Wick for an image and more details). The shoulders and back are usually taken together symbolically, and yet they have their own roles in communication: the back symbolizes our burdens, either those placed upon us or that we take upon ourselves, while the shoulders, as part of the arms, symbolize whether or not we receive strength from our burdens (on our back) or are weakened by them. In the case of John Wick, he's strengthened by them, because he has the cross on his shoulder and on his back (since they are tattoos, he has placed them there himself) however, the problem is, there are two other tattoos: the woman wearing the mask on his left shoulder, and the howling wolf on his right shoulder. (This caption isn't finished yet, sorry).
How do we pray?
Only by the Power of the Holy Spirit, in other words, God Himself, as the Third Member of the Trinity, gives us His own Life (commonly called "Grace") so that we may offer our prayers to Him. How does the Holy Spirit appear to us? In many forms, but most commonly He appears as a bird, as when Jesus was Baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. (If you haven't done so all ready, please make sure you read the caption above this paragraph before proceeding, as that will help to establish the context for this discussion). Granted, we don't actually see Wick praying in the film, and that's why the second form of the ex communicado is so severe: John Wick will now be forced to pray, because, like Moses being cast out of Egypt into the desert, so, too, has Wick been cast out with nothing but what is in his heart but Wick is not alone: he has the dog (his animal nature) and he has the Holy Spirit. There are at least three places in the narrative where birds are important, which means there are three places where the Holy Spirit is guiding Wick and helping him.
Obviously, the Bowery King and his carrier pigeons are important; why? John Wick--as is the audience rooting for Wick--are nervous the whole time Wick is in the presence of the Bowery King that the $7 million contract on Wick's head is going to win over and, instead of helping Wick, the Bowery King will help himself; that's the power of the Holy Spirit at work, that the Bowery King is able to be an instrument of God rather than a hindrance to God's work (I know, you are asking how is John Wick killing all those people the work of God, but give me a moment and we will get to it). Then, there is also the scene when Winston tells Wick that Wick is ex communicado and a flock of birds fly up from behind Wick, signifying that this is the Will of the Holy Spirit and God is with Wick and everything will be okay. If it weren't for the Bowery King giving Wick a leg up and getting him into the museum, John would have failed; if it weren't for Winston giving Wick an hour before the ex communicado goes into effect, Wick would have died right there. The third important bird reference?
Duck fat.
When Santino goes to Winston and tells him to revoke John Wick's membership to the Continental, and Winston refuses, Winston reminds Santino that he, too, enjoys the privileges of the hotel; why does Winston do this? So that John won't do what John did at the start of the film, which was make a big mistake. Don't make peace with your demons.
Ever.
In the opening sequence, after John has his car back, he goes into the office of Abram (Peter Stormare), and Abram--as well as the audience--is confident that Abram is going to die at the hands of John Wick,... instead, John pours them both a glass, and they drink to peace. This is John's mistake for which he pays throughout the whole film. No, Abram doesn't come after John Wick, but Abram participated in the offenses against John Wick by holding onto Wick's car (please see the commentary in the caption below the images of Wick and his car at the top for more on this topic) and in not killing Abram as Wick should have done, Wick allows the seed of sin to remain and, in only hours, it has grown with a vengeance and Santino comes knocking on John's door. 
So, back to the duck fat,....
In the lounge at the Continental, when Wick walks in with his gun, all of us know (because we saw John Wick and how Ms. Perkins was executed for breaking the neutral grounds in her attempted hit on John himself) that John is in for it if he pulls that trigger,.... and he pulls it anyway. Why? Because the Holy Spirit told him to. How? What does Santino tell John? That he could stay there a long time and not eat the same thing twice. There is a double meaning to this, a warning, but also an invitation, and fortunately for Wick, he refuses both, and it's because of the symbolism of the duck fat (I'm getting to it, I promise).
"Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all." "Of course you will." These are, definitely, the two most important lines of dialogue in the film; why? Because it gives us a choice, just as Wick gives the Bowery King a choice: either we think Winston insane for letting all those assassins line up to get killed by John Wick (because the definition of "insanity" is doing something over and over thinking you will get a different result and, by now, doesn't everyone realize that none of them are going to be able to kill John Wick?) or we realize that Winston has sent Wick upon the great challenge, the battle which will move Wick beyond, "The man, the myth, the legend," to being, quite frankly, a saint. John Wick will kill whoever comes because he's got back his focus, commitment and will, in spite of having lost about everything. Why does Winston do this to Wick? Doesn't Winston like Wick? The first word we hear Winston say in the film is, "Impeccable." The gold coins used in the John Wick universe open up the introductory credits: why? Gold does not tarnish, and it is the most valuable substance on earth, worthy of kings and an apt metaphor of the soul because our soul's are worth far more than gold, but, like gold, our souls must be purified in the fires of trial and purgation, and Winston telling the Numismatic (the man with the coins at the start of the film) that the coins brought are "Impeccable," means that is what John Wick is to become himself, "Impeccable," a soul without blemish.  (This caption is not yet finished, sorry).
Santino puts some food in his mouth, which has supposedly been fried in duck fat; because ducks are birds, like the birds we have discussed, this means, symbolically, that this is the food of the Holy Spirit, compelling Santino to tell the truth (which, in this situation, isn't difficult to do) but it also helps Wick to see the truth: Santino isn't going to go away, so then, Santino will be able to get control over New York City AND get Wick killed or have constant attacks carried out on him by other assassins (unless Wick stays in the hotel, too, which wouldn't be very comfortable for either of them). In other words, God communicates to Wick what is going to happen if Wick doesn't finish Santino right then and there it's going to be war for everyone. So, the duck fat is a means of Wick recognizing what the future holds for all of them. This actually leads us back to the Bowery King and the "deal" Wick describes to him.
Wick explains to the Bowery King, if I don't kill Santino, then Santino is going to take over NYC, so, give me a gun and then I will take upon myself the wrath of the High Table and the Camorra, (the Italian mafia, which Santino was part of, and will seek vengeance for Santino's death). Again, as Wick is led to see the Bowery King, he passes through a soup kitchen, where people are being fed, and sees the large picture on the wall with a cross and the words, "Jesus Saves"; what does this conjunction of symbols mean?
As the Bowery King feeds the people there soup and the message that Jesus Saves, so Wick will feed the Bowery King the message that Wick will save New York City from the take-over by Santino and from the wrath of the Comorra by paying the debt for Santino's death, just as Jesus saved us from God the Father's Wrath by paying the debt of Original Sin for us. This transition in Wick--from letting Abram go in peace at the start of the show to going to great lengths to insure he doesn't make the same mistake again--is the "conversion" process at work in Wick. Why? Because Wick learned his lesson and that leads us to our last point:
WHO IS "JOHN WICK?"
A light favored by God.
We know names are important in this narrative universe, and we know that the name "John" means God has been gracious or, more often, favored by God. We also know that a "wick" is like a fuse: there is the "wick" on a stick of dynamite, for example, or there is also a wick on a lamp (like the old fashioned gas lamps) which can be lit and give off light. We might assume that the "wick" in John Wick denotes a short fuse and he has a bad temper, but at the start of the film, Abram enumerates for us that John Wick is focused, committed and achieves his ends through sheer will power, so there is nothing about a bad temper, and stealing the guy's car and killing his puppy, then blowing up his house, all after he has just buried this wife, is really a lot for a person to take, so that leads us with the interpretation of "wick" as a light,... There is, however, still a problem.
The dog.
We know John Wick has the tattoo of the howling wolf on his right shoulder, and then there is the pitbull who "doesn't have a name yet." That's rather ominous. Even though he's been a "good dog," throughout John Wick 2, we know (again) that names are important in the John Wick universe, so when the dog does get a name, it's probably going to be terrifying, and a direct result of what Wick is going through at the time (please see caption below for more).
By now, we should know the answer to the question about the John Wick Chapter 2 body count: why are there so many dead bodies at the end of a John Wick film, and why does it matter? For those who are materialists and don't believe in the spiritual life (and trust, me, I've argued with them before on this very topic), all they see are dead bodies, not realizing that those aren't "dead bodies" of "real people," rather, the metaphors of spiritual warfare and trophies of eternal combat. John Wick's body count, then, is not only a sign of his masculinity in that he's been able to master himself with his "focus, commitment and will," but he has also built up his soul to be the dwelling place of the ultimate man, Jesus Christ. Without the example of Christ, there is no Love, and we do not know how to better ourselves or overcome the demons enslaving us, which is why we see the banner, "Jesus Saves" in the soup kitchen; then the question becomes, are we willing to be saved?
In conclusion, JWC2 is a dense film, filled with the golden nuggets of wisdom that only those who have trudged the depths of hell can possibly begin to acquire for themselves, and disperse for others; in other words, the film is by far smarter than I am, and if there are "obvious" things you feel I missed, dear reader, it's because I did, in fact, miss them (and because I am posting this before I am actually finished writing it :o). This is one we will be able to go back and watch countless times, and still be "catching something new" with each viewing. Enjoy, because films of this quality don't come around often.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner