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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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Non-Review Review: JoJo Rabbit

JoJo Rabbit is a sincere and sweet movie, but also a hopelessly misguided one.

There’s a lot of warm humanism underpinning Taika Waititi’s adaptation of the novel Caged Skies, about the eponymous young boy who finds himself wrapped up in the propaganda of Nazi Germany. Johannes Betzler is a ten year old boy with who fixates upon being “the bestest, most loyal little Nazi [Hitler will have] ever known.” He has even fashioned his imaginary friend in the form of Adolf Hitler. However, his life is turned upside down when he discovers a Jewish girl living in the crawl space in his dead sister’s bedroom.

He’s going to be Fuhrer-ious.

Waititi’s film has a surprisingly solid grasp of tone, given the material in play. JoJo Rabbit is sweet and sincere, pointed and humane. It is as playful as Waititi’s work on The Hunt for the Wilderpeople or even Thor: Ragnarok, but also appreciates the need to handle certain topis with care and consideration. There’s a warm empathy that radiates from the film, particularly in the dynamic between Jojo and his mother Rosie, who is doing everything she can to protect her son even as she watches his radicalisation.

However, despite all of this, JoJo Rabbit hinges on a fatal miscalculation. It is a story that makes a conscious effort to humanise its Nazi subjects. It is a film so rigourously invested in affirming JoJo’s humanity that it never quite confronts the audience with the horror of his denial of that humanity to others. JoJo Rabbit is a film that suggests the greatest human tragedy in the Second World War is the poor little Nazi boy, and can barely bring itself to look at the actual horrors that he inflicted.

He ain’t Hitler, he’s my buddy.

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