Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★

This movie is incredibly easy for me to hate. None of its jokes landed very hard, the acting isn't spectacular, its subject is a tired target for "satire," its story beats are all pretty obvious, and there isn't a single conspicuous homage to the absurdist machismo shounen battle manga with which it shares half a title. Watching it for me was an excruciating endurance test: two hours in the theater spent waiting to come home and meme about it with my fellow funposters (You). Yet I left feeling refreshed in a way only something fresh can make me feel.

The game Undertale didn't vibe for me at all. I went into it on the caboose of a hype train and for about half its playtime was still aboard. Upon completion, bitterness took over: "This is the first zoomer consensus masterpiece? and what's more, the first by someone of my generation?" My expectations for a magnum opus as something that punishes its player, reader or watcher through narrative or mechanics were not only subverted, but even mocked to a degree. I wanted Cave Story, Drakengard or Ever 17 and what I got felt so patronizing in comparison.

Jojo Rabbit is cut from the same neosincere cloth as Undertale, which is why I was loath to like it, always waiting for the "Unga Movie Good, Bunga Nazis Bad!" message that people who go to art to indulge neoliberal biases seem to love, but it never really came. What's there instead doesn't even feel like satire, much less a "black comedy" as its Wikipedia page denotes. It's rather a feather-lite romcom set in Nazi Germany by a Jewish director that seems to harbor so little baggage or resentment it's almost completely weightless, not even cynical enough to be funny; and what if this weightlessness was just the point?

There might be someone living our heads rent-free: a father, a mother, a president, a dead ideal, an oppressive villain; it casts a shadow specific to everyone. For Jojo, whose father either died or deserted both he and the Reich in Italy, this figment is Hitler. What makes the Führer unique to this film is that he doesn't really symbolize the politician Adolf Hitler, but rather serves as a synecdoche for one's own restrictive ideal he or she can never live up to, the self-critic, the inchoate hero and shadow, that's still the product of various imprints or traumatic experiences, and not a genuine self expression. The politics in this film are stupid because it isn't a political film, or at least it's not political on 20th century terms: it subsumes mechanized bloodbath into a story of personal struggle, hence the pretty Jewess is hardly representative of her entire ethnicity as it was brutalized, she's not a collective like the red-sweatered child in Schindler's List, but rather another individual, and for the protagonist, a symbol of everything his ideal won't let him enjoy.

This is the same message that didn't exactly jive with me in Undertale, because there it was externalized, and so felt dishonest as anything but a straightwashed work of online LGBTQ culture. "Shouldn't the humanization of supposed monsters be the most painful thing art can render?" Then, it's also, ironically, the same message Kanye West has been clumsily trying to illustrate, that how we engage with our collective past and future is a matter of choice, that we can heal and move forward. Hitler isn't a comic relief character here because he represents heterodox viewpoints espoused on 4chan, but because he's dead, and for that reason shouldn't loom so large in our collective psyche, whether to make us fearful or intoxicated. We can make new heroes and villains, in loving memory of everything.

A friend online

TL;DR: an extended Jojo reference.

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