Jojo Rabbit

"You're not a Nazi, Jojo. You're a ten year old kid, who likes swastikas and likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club. But you are not one of them."

If there's one thing we've learned from the past couple years, it's that people are all too willing to make excuses for Nazis. Whether from the left, right, or center, we hear it constantly. Nazis aren't so bad. They're just people with different opinions. They aren't dangerous. They aren't even Nazis, and saying they are is what's really offensive. So I think a Jewish artist is presented with a responsibility. We can't make compromises on depicting Nazis. The scope of the Holocaust is so titanic that any obligation to "nuance" is superseded. There were no good Nazis.

With Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi fully and flagrantly abdicates his responsibility as a Jewish artist in favor of disgraceful, vomit-inducing Nazi kitsch. And he shamefully uses his heritage as a label to hide behind in order to get away with it.

The film reveals its hideousness early. Scrawny ten-year-old Jojo, for whom Hitler is an imaginary friend, lives in Germany in the waning days of World War II. As the film begins, he heads off to a Hitler Youth summer camp. Waititi depicts the camp with a Wes Andersonian whimsy, the first sign of the way in which he takes for granted the audience's anti-Nazi sympathies. He's like the YouTuber who says the N-word and cries "I'm not racist, the joke is that I would never say something like that!" These scenes are coupled with horrific comic performances from Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson as Nazi leaders. Here, the joke is different. We're meant to laugh at their oafish stupidity. Is this the best that this "anti-hate satire" can muster in comedic critique? "Nazis are dumb," that's all? This is classic toothless liberal satire, the kind Jon Stewart perfected a decade and a half ago. Fascists can't be treated as evil, because that would make lighthearted comedy an obviously useless tool of resistance. But if we call them stupid instead, we can joke about how stupid they are, and take the high ground, and act like it fucking matters, like these people have ever cared if the left thinks they're dumb. This is how Waititi treats the perpetrators of mankind's most monstrous act. Not as bad guys, just fancifully silly ones.

The film's most infuriating element, to me, is that their anti-Semitism is treated as just part of the gag. I'm not sure I've ever been so angry watching a movie as I was listening to an audience howl with laughter at the deluge of anti-Semitic remarks. Were they laughing at the Nazis for being stupid enough to believe such things? Or were they laughing at the shock of hearing them out loud? Perhaps it was because they were hearing some of these ideas for the first time. I can't say I shared that experience.

This, finally, is how you get the quote I opened this post with. That line comes from the mouth of Elsa, a young Jewish girl being hidden by Jojo's mother. This girl who has probably watched her entire family be packed in cattle cars and shipped off to be murdered views a young Hitler fanatic not as an object of both immediate and existential terror, but as a wounded little bird whose ideology she can nurse back to health. When Jojo first discovers her, Waititi shoots her like a horror movie monster, slowly sliding her fingers around doorframes and viciously stalking the young boy through his house. Eventually she physically attacks him and threatens to murder him. This is not the righteous vengeance of Inglourious Basterds, it's just a vile misappropriation of broadly familiar imagery of Holocaust survivors. I'm sure Waititi thinks he's being quite provocative and edgy with these scenes. I think he's being irresponsible. This is even less forgiveable once you've seen how the rest of the film treats Elsa. There's no trace of Judaism in her character or perspective that I can recognize. There is only the milquetoast sentimentality of a liberal all to eager to forgive monsters.

In fact, for all the defenses of Waititi's right as a "Jewish director" to make Jojo Rabbit, this is by no means a Jewish film. It's not for Jews, it's not about Jews, it doesn't speak to our values or teachings or culture. It does do all of those things for Nazis. So I'm calling this a Nazi film, instead.

Esther liked these reviews