We are so quick to brand something as “bad” based on cursory contexts. Take, for example, prisoners: as far as society goes, these are the undesirables among us. The baddest of seeds. They are irredeemable, and should be treated thusly.
Not so, says Paddington the bear, the star of the year’s best reviewed movie, Paddington 2 (still Certified Fresh at 100%, all these months later).
And in a time when so much hate is being bandied about the world, a children’s film decided to forget all that and take a different route, becoming a better movie for it. Because of all the things to love about Paddington Brown and his adventures around Londontown in his successful sequel, the ripple effect of radical kindness is perhaps most profound of all. Because, really, Paddington 2 is a story about the re-humanization of Knuckles McGinty.
Sure, yes, okay: Paddington 2 is also about everyone’s favorite bear from Darkest Peru, finding himself in quite an unjust pickle after trying to buy his Aunt Lucy a 100th birthday present, but that’s just the premise in which we meet our hero’s journeyman, Knuckles. A bearded wall of a man played with gruff, curmudgeon-y excellence by Brendan Gleeson, Knuckles—or Nuckel’s, as his tattoos suggest—is in charge of the prison’s kitchen, much to the fearful chagrin of its residents. You see, he serves a sort of gloopy mess for every meal, and isn’t all that kindly about it, either. He’s got a short fuse, and he “doesn’t do nothing for no one for nothing,” likely after years of neglect from the world outside and around him. He distrusts everyone, even sweet and naïve little Paddington. “After you,” the polite bear insists before entering the kitchen. “Why, so you can stab me in the back?!” Knuckles has utilized his distrust as a shield, allowing his insecurity to reign terror upon the other inmates. And so the cycle continues.
But Paddington finds a way to cut through: with empowerment and love. Sure, Knuckles resists at first, calling Paddington B. Brown “gullible and mushy-brained,” but by being shown kindness and compassion in spite of it, our hero not only gains a new friend and life skill, he is given the capacity to show kindness to others. And that begets so much more for himself and the other prisoners.
“There’s a strange, warm tingling in my tum-tum,” Knuckles admits to Paddington at one point. “I think that’s called pride,” the bear responds, as we watch the prison become less inhospitable – and the tension, in spite of their circumstances, evaporates.
True to hero’s journey form, Knuckles does fall back on hold habits for a slip. They plan to break out Paddington and clear his name…only to have it all be a ruse. An escape! Time to flee the country, leave the rule of law behind! Paddington, feeling betrayed, stays behind as he watches Knuckles and his other friends take flight, determined to do what’s right.
But Knuckles is now a man changed. And when faced with the reality that his friend Paddington was in real danger, a change of heart appears. Knowing that assisting would surely mean they would be caught, Knuckles turns that plane around and – in the nick of time – saves Paddington’s life.
There are plenty of down-on-their-luck, jaded people out there like Knuckles, because the world never showed them much kindness – let alone gave them an opportunity – and they assumed their lot was already assigned in life. When you’re repeatedly beat down, who can really blame some mistakes? But when shown compassion and selflessness, when given an opportunity to surprise even himself, Knuckles was able to do that himself. And what was the result? A commuted sentence and a second chance – with some very good marmalade-making skills to move forward with. It’s like the warden’s bedtime story said: “And it turned out the monster wasn’t such a monster after all.”