Milestone Scenes: That Part of KINDERGARTEN COP Where Things Get Really Heavy for a Few Minutes

The above clip is extremely short, and YouTube’s next-best available version has “Falcon Punch!” overdubbed near the end, so some context: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s undercover detective John Kimble has discovered that one of the children in his kindergarten classroom is a victim of domestic abuse and reacts in true Schwarzeneggarian fashion. Growing up, this was not my favorite moment in Kindergarten Cop—that’d be “My name is John Kimble. And I love my car”–but it was certainly the one I found most stirring, viewing after viewing. Scenes like this are cinematic crack, blood-and-thunder spectacle made cheap and highly-concentrated. And, if I may put on my moralist’s hat for a moment (which also has two slots for soda cans above the brim and loopy straws extending downward–this can be fun, guys!), they’re as dangerous as they are effective.

Kindergarten Cop‘s Bad Dad Punch-Out engages both the best and the worst in a viewer. Are we excited to see justice dispensed (not an anti-social impulse, let’s agree), or are we excited to see a despicable schlub get his block knocked off? Both, most likely, but there’s no way to fully distinguish one impulse from the other–they tangle up in each other as we watch the scene play out, and in any other instance that invites us to both register moral outrage and delight in sensational action. The net effect is that we come to regard acts of retributive violence–watching them, anyway–as immensely satisfying, while maybe bypassing the step during which we might otherwise ask, ‘Is that really a good thing?

Few films offer a proper critique of the violence they parade. Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture-winner Unforgiven does the job as well as any other movie; near the film’s end, our protagonist William Munny (Eastwood) takes revenge for the murder of a close friend, letting go of his humanity and becoming a moral monster in the process. Spectators, meanwhile, the ones who survive Munny’s assault on a saloon, rush to build his legend. We get the corrupting power of violence and its visceral allure in the same series of scenes. Eastwood challenges us to not ignore the former while acknowledging that gunplay on film is exciting stuff–that we can’t ignore the latter either. (Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs approaches the problem of violence a different way: a weak-willed, emasculated academic played by Dustin Hoffman avoids conflict for nearly the entire movie before finally unloading on a group of thugs who attack his house, and in the aftermath he appears not fully actualized or more manly but utterly lost to himself. Straw Dogs is an extremely problematic movie for a host of other reasons, though.)

I bring all this up–I think–because my own ambivalence about film violence doesn’t stop with Schwarzenegger’s avenging (and it is an avenging, not a defense) of the abused child in Kindergarten Cop. Many of my favorite films feature gunfights and/or killing. (And, full disclosure, I’m also in the midst of illustrating a sprawling, ten- or twelve-page fight scene for a comic to appear on this blog at a later date. Watch this space!) Which unsettles me in a vague way, and yet–well, I really like those movies. It’s not anything I expect to resolve in the length of a blog post, in other words, or even in the length of a lifetime. I’d argue, though, that the scene above, despite the absence of bloodshed (or appendage-shed), and despite the fact that in my heart of hearts I like Kindergarten Cop, represents the worst sort of film violence. It posits that decking a cruel and cowardly man solves the problem, rather than making him crueler and more of a coward. Kindergarten Cop does the opposite of problematizing violence, and while the film doesn’t owe us anything different, anything better, really anything other than Arnold Schwarzenegger kicking ass, what it offers up is occasionally pretty scary stuff.

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2 Comments on “Milestone Scenes: That Part of KINDERGARTEN COP Where Things Get Really Heavy for a Few Minutes”

  1. Kjerstin Says:

    dude why is your blog all in bold??? I think you have a broken tag.


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