Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★½

In 2002, Menno Meyjes’s film Max about Adolf Hitler at the historical crossroads as an unsuccessful Weimar artist was met with sharp criticism from the Jewish Defense League for attempting to humanize one of history’s greatest monsters and inadvertently ‘psychically assault’ Holocaust survivors. The Anti-Defamation League followed suit, calling the film “trivializing and offensive.” What then to make of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, which takes the opposite tack by taking a page from Bialystock & Bloom’s playbook: ‘casting for the role of Adolf Hitler: no experience is needed’? Of course, their production was meant to be in bad taste, an epic flop, and there’s distance as Nazism was being self-consciously handled as an idea within a specific context – how we respond to it – and illuminating for it, but everything in Waititi’s wheelhouse here is meant as a surprisingly safe good taste parody (weak shit) and all the more galling for the tonal schizophrenia between the twee and maudlin. I felt as though I was actually watching “Springtime for Hitler”, rather than, say, The Producers, except its producers had meant for it to be an un-self-critical comedic smash bereft of vulgarity, but the audience ate it up all the same (mine did; they even applauded). This reminded of the foreword to “The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen By its Perpetrators and Bystanders”, which expounds that it is ‘a book that should be read’:

in order that we do not forget the most somber lesson of the Second World War: the fragility of civilization, the ease and speed with which, in certain circumstances, barbarism can break through that thin crust, and even, if backed by power and sanctified by doctrine, be accepted as the norm.”

You’d think something of this scope and insight would be germane to a movie using Nazism allegorically. What Jojo Rabbit presupposes in lieu of this “somber lesson” is: Nazis were nincompoops! – you all (the audience) are off the hook – so let’s stage Hitler Youth vs Anne Frank by way of Eagle vs Shark atop the greatest moral collapse of the 20th century. Now it’s trenchant AND funny because it’s trivializing! All laugh.

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