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“So, Your Son is a Nazi”: Modern Hollywood’s Weird Fixation on Feel-Good Stories About Fascists…

JoJo Rabbit is supposed to be an “anti-hate satire”, but what exactly is it satirising?

To be fair to director Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit is a well-made and charming crowd-pleaser. It manages something genuinely impressive, offering a feel-good coming of age comedy set against the backdrop of Germany in the dying days of the Second World War. It belongs the awkward, saccharine genre that produced films like Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful or The Day the Clown Cried. It is impossible to overstate how thin a razor blade Waititi is dancing, and how remarkable it is that he maintains his balance. The film never feels too sombre or too dark, but never as tasteless as something like The Book Thief.

Of course, Waititi largely manages this through cinematic sleight of hand. He avoids dwelling too heavily or for too long on the victims of fascist oppression in Nazi Germany. JoJo Beltzer finds a young Jewish girl hiding in his attic, but the film never details the horrors of the Final Solution. The characters are repeatedly confronted with the sight of bodies hanging in the public square, but the camera never really lingers on them. Instead, it focuses on JoJo’s reaction to them. The audience’s gaze is fixated on his gaze. The question isn’t how the audience feels about the horror, but how they feel about how JoJo feels.

This raises an interesting and slightly unsettling question about the recent wave of Hollywood films exploring the emergence of the modern extreme right and the resurgence of fascist ideology. Who exactly are these films for? What is the intended audience of JoJo Rabbit, and what exactly is it saying to them?

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New Escapist Column! “Undone”, “Back to the Future” and Keeping Time Travel In the Family…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday. This one takes a look at Amazon Prime’s really very wonderful Undone. Seriously, if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, give it a look right now. It’s only four hours long in total, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen this year.

Anyway, the series is interesting in its use of its central time travel premise as a metaphor for exploring the relationship between parent and child. Freudian psychology and Campbellian storytelling argues that a parent must die for a child to become a completely independent person, that realisation of mortality standing as the most important marker on the journey to adulthood. However, like Back to the Future before it, Undone suggests a more nuanced idea. Maybe children don’t grow up when confront with the death of a parent, but instead when they realise that their parents were just ordinary human beings.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Luke Cage – For Pete’s Sake (Review)

Maybe we don’t all become our parents, but we do live in their shadows.

The second season of Luke Cage engages with the idea of parents and children as a consistent thematic arc across the length and breadth of the season. In Soul Brother #1, Luke is thrown off his game by the arrival of his long-absent father in Harlem, seeking to reconnect. In Straighten It Out, Mariah is informed that one of better chances at going legitimate would be to cultivate a relationship with her own long-estranged daughter. From his introduction, even before his story is articulated in On and On, Jon McIver is clearly seeking justice for his parents.

This is not something that the second season conjures out of thin air. The first season had also hinted at generational tension. The battle between Luke Cage and Willis Stryker in the second half of the first season was largely fought in the shadow of the as-yet-unseen Reverend James Lucas, with Luke even taking Claire home to Georgia in Take It Personal to provide a sense of his history and back story. Similarly, both Cornell and Mariah wrestled with the obligations and the wounds that the Stokes family had inflicted upon them, seen in flashback in Manifest.

However, as all successful sequels and follow-ups tend to do, the second season of Luke Cage works from those small kernels and develops them into a strong central thematic arc for the various characters. Reverend James Lucas actually appears, force Luke to work through his anger and his rage towards his emotionally distant father. Similarly, Mariah is forced by political necessity to reach out to the daughter who has largely been absent from her life, which serves as a catalyst for confronting all of these deep-set issues.

This parental anxiety simmers through the season in interesting ways. The Jamaican restaurant that serves as Bushmaster’s base of operations is called “Gwen’s”, implicitly named for his long-deceased mother and a reminder of what motivates him. At the climax of On and On, the story of the loss of Bushmaster’s mother is cut against Luke remembering the last time that he saw his own mother. Similarly, Tilda’s store is named “Mother’s Touch.” In For Pete’s Sake, she assures Reverend Lucas that she meant “Mother Nature’s Touch”, but it seems a telling choice.

The second season of Luke Cage is all about family. Those that are there, and those that are not.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Child’s Play (Review)

Interesting, isn’t it?

What?

With all their technology, their opportunity to explore the galaxy, the thing they want most is to get home.

A Trek away from the Stars.

Child’s Play is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in that it might be seen as a firm rejection of some of the show’s core conservatism.

Voyager has always been the most conservative of the Star Trek franchise, the series most likely to panic about gang violence for two whole seasons starting in Caretaker or to rail against immigration in Displaced or to voice its anxieties about refugees in Day of Honour. More than that, what are episodes like Remember or Distant Origin or Living Witness or Memorial but expressions of literal anxieties about the erosion of the certainty of history to postmodernism and moral relativism? At its core, Voyager is a series about nostalgia, about the yearning to recapture what once was, how the only journey is the journey home.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom…”

Child’s Play is interesting as a firm rejection of the idea of the traditional family unit in favour of a more modern (and less rigidly defined) idea of a “found family.” It is a story about how a child’s best interests do not always lie with their biological parents, and about how some of the strongest and most loving bonds in a young person’s life can be forged by chance rather than biology. Child’s Play is essentially an ode to the kind of complicated family dynamics that were entering the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, a staunch defense of a liberal and inclusive definition of family.

More than that, the episode also seems to be making several very pointed jabs at Voyager‘s traditionally conservative outlook.

“I want to be out there…”

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The X-Files – Two Fathers (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

This is the end. I never thought I’d hear myself say those words after all these years. You put your life into something… build it, protect it… The end is as unimaginable as your own death or the death of your children. I could never have scripted the events that led us to this. None of us could. All the brilliant men… the secret that we kept so well. It happened simply, like this.

– the Cigarette-Smoking Man channels his inner Chris Carter

In case you were wondering about the title...

In case you were wondering about the title…

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Non-Review Review: Devil

Devil actually has a pretty interesting B-movie premise, evoking the sort of cheesy thrill of an eighties horror. Six strangers are trapped inside an elevator… and one of them might be Satan. It’s a fairly straight-forward idea, albeit one that the script and direction needlessly complicate and convolute as they attempt to fill up the seventy-seven minutes. In many ways, Devil feels like something of a classic horror throwback, a simple high concept that relies on occasionally overstated jump scares rather than gratuitous gore or carnage. It’s not necessarily the best representation of the genre, but – if you can suspend your disbelief and live with the overwrought corniness – it’s an affectionate old-fashioned homage.

And things were just looking up…

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Have We Stopped Making Children’s Films For Children?

The three biggest children’s films under discussion at the moment are Pixar’s Up, Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. These three films have generated a debate about who exactly family entertainment should be aimed at, and whether are not there are themes (rather than content) which should be taboo for films that would appear to be aimed at children. More importantly, these three films have sparked a flurry of complaints or criticisms from adults who claim they are far too mature for younger audiences. So, are we really only making these films for big kids?

Watch out, here comes the Politically-Correct-allo!

Watch out, here comes the Politically-Correct-allo!

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