Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★

Genuinely dismayed to not have liked this much; but here we are. First off, I question the need for a Hitler satire (if you can call this a satire) within the context of modern times. Mocking Hitler and his cronies offers an opportunity to mock people who hate based on ethnicity and fall victim to propaganda. In other words, ignorant and hateful people. They're an obvious stand-in for those at the top of modern times; Trump and the other numerous GOP racists that rule with fear, hatred and propaganda. So why feature Hitler? Perhaps, is it yet another example of Hollywood studios pushing easy and toothless "timely" sentiment without being willing to actually make a statement or be divisive? Look at Green Book, which stunningly one best picture last year. Racists were allowed to be good guys, victims were made to make concessions and "educate" their persecutors when it should be vice versa. Honestly, I'm pretty sick of this idea that racism is solved when racists get to know a minority and eventually see that, shocker, they're human beings! It's a fine idea, and their is an honest truth to the power of human connection in overcoming hate and fear.

BUT, Jojo Rabbit just doesn't work, in my opinion. There's a time and a place for these gauche and cheesy stories. But wow, it's just stunning how toothless this thing really is. Sam Rockwell, playing yet another lovable racist, is presented as a "good" Nazi? I don't care to see a grown man who was proudly a Nazi until the regime's final moments when he performs a solitary decent act treated at all like a hero. This film felt like it was largely about the allure of tribalism. Just like the Nazis informed and influenced the young minds of their nation to support their agenda; Trump is now telling lies about minorities and encouraging white Americans to fear "the other". Tribalism is functionally something that breeds among the ignorant or the vulnerable; it's easy and convenient to blame your own insecurities on a faceless other. Jojo Rabbit gets at this; Jojo's imaginary friend Hitler represents his deeply imbedded Nazi beliefs. There are compelling moments; watching the kid slowly see the cracks in that ideology is moving enough.

But is the allure of tribalism an excuse for the horrifying evil enacted on behalf of those beliefs? Jojo Rabbit seems to think so. Marketed as "an anti-hate satire" rather than "an anti-Nazi satire", Waititi chooses to employ a feeble sort of humanism instead of actually saying something. In Jojo's case, Nazism seems to be a remedy for his inability to fit in with other kids and his absent father. In so many words, it invokes the similarly lazy Joker message that "hurt people hurt people". True, perhaps, but why make a fucking movie about it? Especially now? Nationalism is on the rise around the world. Nazi's are still very much alive and well; a mildly less radical version of their ideals being perpetrated by leaders around the world (and right here in the USA). Refugees are being shut out. The most vulnerable among us are being ignored. MAGA heads would rather adopt the Fox News catalog of beliefs than open a fucking book for themselves or feel a shred of empathy for anyone other than themselves. What is this beyond an unnecessary contrivance? Is there value to not judging a Nazi by his/her cover?

Sure, Waititi's craft is there. I like the look of the film. It's frequently adorable and funny; the performers are all rather good. I really dug the bits with Scarlett Johansson, actually. I thought the scenes between a mother and her son imparted the only valuable content in the film. Its revealed early that the mother is not on board with the Nazi regime. She's disappointed her son idolizes Hitler so; and encourages him to see the problems with his worldview in a very loving, maternal way. And for me, that checked out. Jojo's mother is the most impactful influence on his life alongside the Nazi regime; there's value and truth in a mother's effort to steer her son to morally greener pastures. There's a quiet desperation to her efforts; she really embodies the grace and goodness of a moral resistance wonderfully. I found their relationship to be really powerful. But I'm quite tired of movies that are barely more interesting than "there were very fine people on both sides". At some point you just need to acknowledge that neutrality in times of moral crisis is just plain evil.

2019 Ranked

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