Sunday 13 June 2021

Nerd Church - I Watched Jojo Rabbit: Part 3 - The Bittersweet Tale of Captain K


'I Watched Jojo Rabbit: Part 3 - The Bittersweet Tale of Captain K'

Yes! It's here! The final part of 'I Watched Jojo Rabbit' aka Cee can't stop rabbiting on about this film!

If you want to catch up on Part 1 - which is a general look at the hope and humanity of the film Jojo Rabbit - you can do that here.

Or check out Part 2 - which is me fearlessly facing the uncomfortable facets of history because Taika Waititi made this film - over here.

...Honestly I could've kept talking about this film and issues it brings up for the rest of my life, but let's hope 3 parts is enough!

Warning: due to the subject matter of the film Jojo Rabbit, this post discusses: war, Nazis, Hitler, the Holocaust, bigotry, indoctrination, war crimes, crimes against humanity, executions.

Some of the scenes and/or events described contain deeply upsetting material.

This post also contains SPOILERS for the film Jojo Rabbit.

To recap Jojo Rabbit* on the whole:

Jojo Rabbit is a film about a ten-year-old boy growing up in the dying days of Nazi Germany.

He is a fervent believer in Nazi ideology and member of the Hitler Youth, whose life is turned upside-down when he finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the house.

Oh, and it's a comedy.

And Jojo's imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, as played by Taika Waititi.

* = commission link

And to refresh your memory of some of the things I talked about in Part 2 that are relevant for this Part:

Look, Nazis are bad.

But life is rarely so simple.

Millions of people lived in Nazi Germany - even if you only count what we know as Germany today, rather than any annexed countries.

Is it possible for millions of people to be de facto 'bad' or 'evil,' as individuals?

And, if they're not 'bad' people - does that mean that they have to ignore the horrific things happening around them, in order to survive? Or does that, in itself, make them bad?

There's a scene towards the end of Jojo Rabbit where Jojo, wearing his Nazi jacket, is corralled by the incoming military forces to a courtyard area where the other surviving Nazis from the town are being held.

He finds, amongst the remaining Nazis, Captain K.

Captain K comforts him, hugs him, and then... tears off Jojo's Nazi jacket and pushes him to the ground, shouting anti-Semitic insults.

A soldier grabs Captain K, while another grabs a screaming Jojo (the kid playing Jojo, Roman Griffin Davis, is excellent,) and pushes him away, out of the courtyard and back into the town. 

Jojo starts to stumble, confused and terrified, away from the courtyard area.

Off-screen there is a shouted order... then heart-rending, blood-curdling, rounds of ammunition are fired.

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Captain K (Sam Rockwell,) drinking: God help me
Via Giphy

Captain Klenzendorf, aka Captain K, struts into the film, alcohol-soaked, as the officer in charge of the Hitler Youth camp Jojo attends.

He has been sent back from the front lines - despite how badly the war is going for Germany - because he's been blinded in one eye.

In an arguably very un-Nazi way, he then resentfully explains that his disability does not mean he is ineffective, despite what others may think, and goes on to provide a display of his sharp-shooting skills as proof. 

(...Which, the fact that he's eternally drunk makes this more impressive, in my book - but regardless, don't try this at home. Guns are bad, and combining them with alcohol is BAD.)

It's not the last time he says or does something decidedly un-Nazi.

Captain K is an amazing character, played incredibly by Sam Rockwell.

He's something of a difficult character to come to terms with - a Nazi Captain who, throughout the film, displays a humanity that is, at best, uncomfortable to associate with the regime.

I talked a bit about Captain K in Part 2 (which you can see here,) but I didn't talk about one extremely significant part of his character and story out of that part - mainly because I saw pretty quickly that Part 2 was gonna have to be split into Parts 2 and 3.

Because Captain K is a Nazi soldier - who is also Gay.

Buckle up, dearest nerdlets - it's a bumpy ride.

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It becomes clear, as the film moves on, that Captain K and his subordinate, Finkel (played beautifully by Alfie Allen,) have a thing for each other - though we never find out how full on their relationship may or may not be.

The pair are Queercoded, with everything being subtextual, but not in a way designed to hide the truth from the viewer.

Sam Rockwell and writer/director Taika Waititi have both been pretty damn open about Captain K being Gay.

(Incidentally, 'Allo 'Allo, a British comedy series - and a favourite of mine - set in France in WW2, had a Gay German soldier in Guy Siner's Lieutenant Gruber, who was part of the main ensemble cast)

Queercoding actually works exceptionally well here because this is not an environment in which they can be in any way open or explicit.

And also our protaganist - and primary point of view - is Jojo, who is ten, and therefore not likely to witness the Nazi Youth leaders professing their love for each other in front of him, or to pay much attention if they do.

Weimar Germany - the state structure which the Nazis subverted and replaced - was one of the most liberal societies of the first half of the 20th Century.

Think of Paris in the Jazz age. 

Weimar Berlin was on a par in terms of permissivity and tolerance.

While sex between dudes was still illegal, there was a growing movement to decriminalise, and prosecutions under that law were rare.

Berlin had a vibrant and open LGBTQ+ community.

Germany was not somewhere you would ever think a regime like the Nazis would take hold.

I mean, yes, they had some support, amongst fringe groups... you know, the kind of people who simply don't like progress. A few extremists in Bavaria hardly makes a force to be reckoned with!

And they were harmless, really - they'd never get any actual power. And you can't censor them. They have a right to their opinions.

That stuff about Jewish and Gay and Roma and disabled people? All that Aryan supremacy stuff? Just blowing off steam! Catchy slogans to attract support from undesirables.

Not a real threat - not here. Not in Germany. Maybe elsewhere, but not Germany. Things like that just don't happen in Germany. This is the Weimar Republic! This is the 20th Century!

...It happened in Germany.

And if it could happen in Weimar Germany, it can happen anywhere.

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And yes, there were Gay Nazis - as contradictory as that seems.

How? Let's take a look.

The persecution of Gay men and LGBTQ+ people in Nazi Germany was not like a switch being flipped.

Oppression works most effectively when it's not opposed by members of the group in power (in this case, Allocishet, aka non-LGBTQ+, people.)

In order for the oppression not to be opposed, it starts small. 

It's an erosion of rights - like, the right to run Gay clubs and bars where the Queer community can meet, (freedom of assembly,) or to run an LGBTQ+ newspaper, (freedom of speech/the press,) rather than an outright demolition.

And by the time people from outside the oppressed group realise what's going on, they're either too scared or too fanatical to speak out about it.

Persecution of Queer people under the Nazi regime was highly inconsistent.

Exact numbers of those persecuted aren't known, for a few reasons, including:

  • many were arrested and sent to prison at a local level, meaning there is no central source of information
  • some of those persecuted had intersectional identities - for example, being Gay and Jewish, Gay and Roma, etc., meaning they were often recorded under other categories of prisoner
  • estimates vary for numbers regarding the victims of the regime: we're still unsure how many Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust, and they were the primary target
  • mainstream investogators, researchers, and historians didn't give a sh** about Queer people for a very long time
It's also worth noting that those persecuted under the heading of 'Gay men' contain a range of Queer identities 

- pretty much any Cisgender man, Transgender woman, or Non-Binary person assigned male at birth (AMAB,) who loved men and/or other AMAB people, would have come under this catch-all.

Many people were sent to jail, as opposed to the concentration camps, for the crime of existing.

Some others were not prosecuted for their 'crimes' at all.

How likely you were to be caught up in the worst of the persecution depended on a variety of factors, including how apathetic those in authority were, whether you had an intersectional identity - a Gay Jewish man would be prosecuted - how open you were, and how much you conformed to the norm.

In the concentration camps, Gay men wore the infamous 'pink triangle.'

Since reclaimed by the Queer community (because f**k it, you can't give us a symbol and expect us not to reclaim it,) pink triangle prisoners were often subjected to the most horrendous abuse and experimentation within the camps.

Some even experienced further persecution and abuse from other prisoners at the camps.

Queer Cis women were, on the whole, not persecuted as much as their male and Trans counterparts.

Sapphic culture was destroyed and persecuted, but individuals themselves were seen as baby-makers, and therefore too important to the regime. (Excuse me while I throw up.)

Again, though, a Roma or Jewish Sapphic woman would find herself caught up in the persecution of that aspect of her identity.

Social persecution was encouraged by propaganda - think state-sponsored homophobia.

And some Queer women were persecuted and sent to Ravensbrück - especially those who were Jewish, or those caught in raids on Gay bars, or those who were generally too open and politically inconvenient for the regime.

...I'd like to point out, though, that's it's not a competition over who had it worst. Having to live in this environment as a Queer woman must've been Hell.

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They are a system which says that those who are different cannot be visibly different, or else they will be put down by society.

They're still in place today, in society as a whole. Though thankfully with less fatal consequences in many places.

In Nazi Germany, respectability politics were a matter of life and death. 

Those who could not pass for the regime's ideal - effeminate men who couldn't pass for straight, Trans women who couldn't pass for Cisgender, people whose identities were publicly known - were the most likely to be sent to the concentration camps.

As bizarre as it is, one of the safest places for Gay men to hide was the military.

Partly because it was expected that men of a certain age would join the armed forces, or else be conscripted, and to not join would be to draw attention to yourself - something Queer people couldn't afford to do.

But also because, by 1945 when the war was going badly, Germany simply couldn't afford to lose the man-power that persecuting Queer soldiers would result in.

But being Queer in the army was walking a tightrope, every single day - all it took was a superior officer deciding to take action.

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So where does this leave Captain K?

A Gay man in the German army under the Nazis.

...Remember last week, in Part 2, where I pointed out the messiness of war, and people, and history? Yeah. That.

Trailer for Jojo Rabbit.
Warning: flashing images
All Content Warnings for this post apply

Was he a 'real' Nazi?

Were men like Captain K 'real' Nazis, participating actively in the oppression of marginalised groups? Were they taking advantage of oppression in order to protect themselves?

Were they even worse than the others - because they should have known better?

Or were they just lost, scared, persecuted people - trying to survive?

As I said in Part 1, the point of this film is the survival, not only of marginalised people, but also of humanity.

Captain K, on several occasions throughout the film, does the kind thing - the human thing - to try to protect both Jojo and Elsa, the Jewish girl in Jojo's house, (albeit in Elsa's case, he's careful to maintain plausible deniability.)

Is the blame to be placed on them - the ones who chose their own survival over the survival of others?

Or does it lie with the systems which, even today, pit marginalised groups against each other in their struggles to live?

Maybe it's a little of both.

Maybe it's neither - maybe there's some other option, which I'm yet to think of.

Who knows?

“On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles - whatever one may choose to call them - we know: the best of us did not return.”

- Viktor Frankl (A Holocaust survivor), Man's Search For Meaning 

dividing line

Captain K is a man who has hidden who he is for as long as the Nazis have been in power - longer than Jojo has even been alive.

He's reached the end - he can see the way the war is going.

And he realises that he has no future worth having, either way: 

- if the Allies win, as they are likely to, then he'll be demonised and potentially prosecuted as a Nazi officer, and there's still no guarantee that he'll be free to love Finkel - homosexuality was illegal in most if not all of the Allied countries at the times

- if Germany win, then he'll never be able to come out of that closet. He will never be free.

So he and Finkel make a decision - when they make it is unclear, but they're confident enough about it to discuss it with Jojo, who clearly doesn't understand the symbolism of their designs - if they're going out, they're going out in style. 

And they do.

In the final battle for the town as the Allies approach, K and Finkel come out to music blaring, wearing eye make-up and dressed in Nazi uniforms which have been triumphantly festooned in pink triangles. 

They're clearly having the time of their lives. They even have capes.

Capes which look just a little like big, beautiful, wings...

K is still wearing his when he saves Jojo from execution.

Earlier in the film, when Jojo asks his mother, Rosie, what love feels like, she tells him it feels like butterflies. 

It's an image that's played with and repeated throughout the film.

Butterflies only spend the briefest time in their lives as full butterflies - the destination they were always headed for.

Most of their lives are spent in their other life-stages - egg, caterpillar, and pupa (or chrysallis, which sounds prettier.)

Then for a brief but glorious period, they emerge out of their cocoons and they are butterflies - one of nature's brightest and most beautiful creatures. 

Fulfilling what they were always meant to be.

'The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life.'

- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning 

And that, my dearest nerdlets is Part 3! Hopefully this series has been at least somewhat interesting/educational/amusing (delete as appropriate!)

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Catch up on the 'I Watched jojo Rabbit' series:

Sharing and commenting is appreciated, dearest nerdlets! 💖


  1. What a great, in depth analysis, Cee! I had no idea that there was a gay character in this film, but this certainly adds to the complexity of all of the issues in the film. I think Taika Waititi is a very talented filmmaker, and I'd be curious to see what he comes up with next.

    Overall, it seems that this movie took the unique approach that Tarantino did in Inglorious Basterds but made it less problematic. Tarantino I think was not the best person to represent a humorous take on WWII, and I'm glad to see a different take on it through Jojo Rabbit.

    I will keep this movie on my radar. Glad to see it made an impact.

    1. Thanks Em! <3

      I could keep talking about this film forever, tbh, but then I'd have to rename this blog the Jojo Rabbit blog or something and everyone would get bored after the first month or two (lol.)

      I haven't seen the Tarantino film... I also had no idea it was a comedy. From the clips/trailers I've seen of it, I wouldn't've thought so!

      I hope you get the chance to watch Jojo Rabbit - it's incredible!


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