When I was a junior in high school I wrote a paper on Frankenstein. I don’t remember much about the book, but I do remember that Frankenstein’s monster, above all else, was lonely. In fact, he spends a large portion of the story just wandering around by himself. And in my paper I remember writing that Frankenstein’s monster exhibited one of the strongest and most basic human desires: to feel connected to others. People will go to unbelievable lengths to feel included, because it’s something we so deeply need.
Think about it. You’re a caveperson and you don’t particularly care about your fellow cavepeople. You’re fine chilling by yourself. You’re probably happier, honestly. No yearning for a cavepartner, no pings of longing for cavekids, no low self esteem in caveschool when you get left out. Except then you never get with anybody and you never have babies and your genes die out. Your lonely, awkward, attention-hungry counterparts do eventually find someone after trying long enough and they get to have kids. Their social neediness gets passed on, and that’s the extremely simplified reason for why we all care about belonging so incredibly much.
What do Frankenstein and Cavepeople have to do with 21 Jump Street? Well, this movie is more than an action movie. It’s more than a high school clique movie. It gives us more than fascinating commentaries on racism, attitudes toward minorities, and high school today. This is a story that proves that, as humans, all we really, truly want is to belong.
In the beginning we learn about the backstories of our two leading men. I enjoyed watching their budding friendship and their introduction to the policing world, but the first time I really leaned in was when I saw that look of completely genuine fear on Jonah Hill’s face as he prayed to Korean Jesus about returning to high school. This guy has been out of school for 7 years, but when he finds out he’s going back, he will do anything to feel protected, including praying to a God that he doesn’t even know. He’s desperate. Why? Because in high school he didn’t fit in, and that hurt him so deeply that he still feels it today.
Then we get to school where suddenly we have a case of switched identities, confusion about what’s “cool,” and decimation of typical high school stereotypes. Love it. But to me the most gripping part is the relationship between Jenko and Schmidt. These guys were best friends, and now they’re torn apart. Power dynamics are switched, they stop trusting each other, they stop working together, and because of that they screw up and get fired.
But even after they get fired and there should be some montage about them missing each other, Jenko and Schmidt still don’t separate. They’re furious at each other, but instead of anything remotely hateful, Jenko says, “I would’ve taken a bullet for you.” In the face of loss and hurt and loneliness, he only confirms just how much he cares about his best friend. Think about it: in real life, is leaving somebody behind ever as simple as it is in the movies? Of course not. We care about each other. More than anything else, we want to belong. We want someone else to tell us that we’re worth it. That we matter.
And when our life is a movie, they do. And in this particular movie, they also arrest the bad guy. They’ve gone through all these car chases, shot a ton of people, they have a guy on the ground and they’re arresting him. And what does Jenko choose to say to his partner? “You’re so cool.” For him this isn’t about catching the perp or getting his job back. It’s about his best friend. And his best friend answers, “I know I didn’t say you were, but you’re smart. You’re a smart guy, and you’re thoughtful, and you’re sincere, and…and you’re sweet and you’re loyal. And I f***ing cherish you.”
At this high-adrenline, incredibly exciting moment, the one thing our main characters want to do is express to each other how much this relationship means to them. They understand what a lot of people don’t, which is that more than doing a good job or being right or pretty much anything else, the best feeling we can have is that we care about someone else and they care about us right back.
So thank you, 21 Jump Street, for giving some genuine heart to what could have been just another lame comedy about a hot guy and a dorky guy and the jokes they make together. You took those two people and made them truly need each other, and in doing so transformed this movie into something real and important and surprisingly human.
And for that I f***ing cherish you.
Edited 12/21/14 following corrections from the extremely intelligent Luis Seija.