Sunday 6 June 2021

Nerd Church - I Watched Jojo Rabbit: Part 2 - Facing History

'I Watched Jojo Rabbit: Part 2 - Facing History'

Welcome to the next instalment of I Watched Jojo Rabbit, aka 'Cee rabbits on about Jojo Rabbit!*'

(And no, I could not resist the pun.)

While you don't need to have read Part 1 of this mini-post-series in order to understand this part, I do recommend reading it (which I would do, because I wrote it,) to get a more generalised view of Jojo Rabbit as a film.

You can read part one here.

Jojo Rabbit is a funny and heart-warming film, with a dark and deeply uncomfortable edge.

And this post? This post looks at that darker part of Jojo Rabbit - from the controversial premise to the dark nature of this darkest period of history.

We're gonna get uncomfortable, dearest nerdlets, fair warning.

* = commission link

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 links are graphic, and I will try to make it clear when this is the case.

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

This post also contains SPOILERS for the film Jojo Rabbit.

Just as a quick recap:

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.

dividing line

There's a scene in Jojo Rabbit, where Jojo and his mother come across the bodies of executed resistance fighters, hanging in the town square.

Just out in the open. For everyone to see as they go on with their daily lives.

Jojo tries to look away, but his mother physically moves his head back, and tells him 'Look.'

Which... a reminder, yet again, that Jojo is ten years old.

Would it be kinder for Jojo's mother to let him look away? 

Or would it just be more comfortable?

Would it be more comfortable for Jojo to not be confronted with the horrors that his beloved Nazi regime have committed? Yes. Definitely.

Should a ten-year-old child NOT have to see dead bodies? Again, yes. Definitely.

Would it be kinder to let him look away, when it would mean allowing him to choose ignorance over truth, and to continue to unquestioningly support the fascist regime?

I don't have the answer to that.

dividing line

As you can imagine, a Nazi comedy is somewhat divisive and controversial, just from the premise.

Interestingly, of the articles and videos I've come across by Jewish #OwnVoices creators and reviewers, the biggest problem is usually not the Hitler-as-imaginary-friend concept.

Instead, the problem (if the reviewer has any,) comes with the humanisation of the Nazi characters.

So let's take a brief look at some Jewish #OwnVoices reviews and/or discussions of Jojo Rabbit:

Lisa Woolfson at The Writer's Bloc, in her 'A Jewish Perspective of "Jojo Rabbit"' says:

'One of the standouts in the movie is Waititi. He plays a brilliant, over-the-top kooky, dare I say likeable Hitler.

Now before you send an angry letter to my editor, just hear me out. Waititi is not actually playing Hitler but instead a little boy’s imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler.

When a Nazi walks into little JoJo’s room and sees all the swastikas and pictures of Hitler on the walls he says “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism.” Well, that’s exactly what this version of Hitler accomplishes.

The only way JoJo can justify all of these terrible thoughts and ideas to his childish ten year old mind, especially with a mother who is less than on board with the situation, is to convince himself that the leader at the helm must be an incredibly likable man.'

Woolfson's perspective is that:

'This movie toed the line at offensiveness but never once crossed it. It had that mix of comedy and realism that the movie needed to not trivialize the Holocaust but still be enjoyable.'

Linda Marric from The Jewish Chronicle has this assessment from her film review:


'A satirical comedy set in Nazi-era Germany and featuring a comedic version of Hitler was always going to come with its own set of issues. However, despite its decidedly darkly comedic and risqué tone, Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit manages to be one of the most thought-provoking and disarmingly tender films made on the subject.'

Gabriella Geisinger, at Digital Spy, on the other hand, is far more unsettled in her review:

'I found myself chuckling out loud with the other 29 likely-gentile movie-goers at Sam Rockwell's expertly performed, drink-sodden commander.

But looking back on it, that rests uneasily in my stomach, especially given the character's arc and the ringing in my ears of the recent death-knell statement from one of the highest authorities in the US that 'there are very fine people on both sides' of white supremacy.'

She says this of the growing friendship between Jojo and Elsa, the Jewish girl:

'The pair develop a friendship, in part because Elsa has enough internal strength to decide that Jojo isn't a Nazi, but "a ten-year-old boy who wants to be part of a club."

She's wrong, of course. He is a Nazi, but he is also capable of change.'

Geisinger does enjoy the film, however, despite her discomfort, and ends as follows:

'...though it is difficult and divisive and discomforting, part of my heart is with Jojo Rabbit.'

Ben Pivoz at The Detroit Jewish News had the following assessment of Jojo Rabbit in his review:

'Taika Waititi has made something that is somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking. In the end, his message seems to be: love, friendship, hope and bravery is what defeats hatred, not more hatred. He finds a way to generate humor while never trivializing what people like Elsa actually had to go through. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I understand why some have been offended by it. Any attempt to find amusement from an event so terrible and so personal to many is going to anger some. It is a difficult concept to accept and not an easy watch. I am absolutely glad I did.'

There is an in-depth video essay, discussing both Jojo Rabbit and the novel The Book Thief by Youtuber Ladyknightthebrave which I highly recommend, but it includes GRAPHIC imagery from the Holocaust - so please be careful if you choose to watch it.

It also has mild flashing images.

The run-time is 1hr, 5mins, and you can find it here.

dividing line

Should we be 'humanising' Nazi characters?

Should we be painting them as any way likeable or relatable or normal?

Should we be setting comedy during this period of history?

One of my favourite comedies growing up was the BBC series 'Allo 'Allo - which is set in occupied France, complete with Nazis and incompetent Gestapo officers.

It's a literal farce - the comedy is outrageous and ludicrous in a very, very, British way.

But it stays away from the sharp end of things - minimal mentions of Hitler, and no mentions at all of the Holocaust or Jewish people.

Jojo Rabbit is altogether more willing to do battle with the guts of the thing.

I, personally, think humour is an excellent tool.

Not least because it shows that the Nazis' ideas were ridiculous - so ridiculous that they start to fall apart when confronted by minimal questioning posed by a ten-year-old child.

There's also an element of subverting power when it comes to comedy - if I'm mocking you, I am not your subordinate in any real sense. 

There's a long tradition in the UK, for example, of satire mocking Lord Fancypants so that we all know he's not a god, and his word is not divine law. 

Likewise, Trump's anger at Alec Baldwin's portrayal of him should tell you all you need to know about the pathetic fragility of people who seek to boost their own ego with large amounts of power.

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

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?

'Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.'

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

Was Jojo a 'real' Nazi?

A small child who had literally only ever lived in a country ruled by Nazis - is he a Nazi?

He says so - he tells Elsa that his love of swastikas means he can't be anything else. She tells him he is not - he's just a little boy who likes dressing-up and playing with his friends.

Is she right?

Are they both right?

And what of the people who've just kind of... found themselves in this situation? Even within the military?

If you're a soldier, are you responsible for the actions of your country? Even if you didn't agree with them? Even if you're a conscript? Or if you joined up before the current government were in power?

When the entire country is telling you to do something (or die,) does it make you 'bad' if you do it? 

Or is this line of questioning getting dangerously close to the 'just following orders' Nuremberg defense

dividing line

We like to think of World War 2 as Good Vs Bad - which in most ways it was: 

The Nazis as a regime were indisputably bad, putting the Allies on the de facto 'good' side. End of.

When given such a clear dichotomy, we in the West, and therefore in the Western film industry, know exactly where the line of good and bad lies... right?

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.

Jojo is ten years old, remember.

He's lost and scared and stunned by witnessing the battle for the town.

He finds, amongst the remaining Nazis, Captain K (played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell) - who was in charge of supervising the local Hitler Youth, of which Jojo was a member.

*There doesn't seem to be any consensus online as to whether these soldiers are Soviet or American - which is interesting in itself.

Regardless, by this point the Russians were also part of the Allied forces.

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. 

The soldier tells him to go home.

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.

And Jojo runs on, crying and covering his ears, trying to block out the noise.

The whole thing is over before we have time to really think about what we're seeing.

And then... then you stop and think.

Did the Allied forces just execute Prisoners of War...?

Did the 'good guys' just commit a war crime in the middle of this film?

What the actual f**k?!

We tend to forget that the Allies also committed, largely-unpunished, war crimes. 

(For more info, check out this Wikipedia page - be CAREFUL, this stuff contains GRAPHIC details of literal war crimes, including rape, and is a real rabbit hole. 

Do NOT Google this stuff - trust me, I really wish I hadn't. Wikipedia is your best base-of-action with this.)

We forget it because we are not shown it, are not made to look at it.

Hollywood likes America, in particular, and the West and its Allies in general, to be in the role of hero. Always and forever, amen.

The Allied forces committing war crimes? That's not something films let us see very often.

It's always more comfortable to not look at your own messes. But that doesn't make them go away.

History doesn't stop being history just because we don't want to face it.

Individuals are messy, individual actions are messy, and war is messy.

It's hard to feel any sympathy for, for example, the guards killed at Dachau when the US liberated it in 1945*. 

I won't shed any tears for those utter b*****ds, but that doesn't make it right.

*Link contains GRAPHIC details of the Holocaust etc. and... it's bad. Please be careful.

Because as an advancing army, you don't get to arbitrarily decide which prisoners live and which die.

You might be confident in the righteousness of your decision - but the Nazis were pretty confident in theirs, too.

And it wasn't only military personnel that were killed by the Americans and the other Allies - civilians, especially in Italy, were killed on several recorded instances.

The Nazi army Captain here saves the life of the small child who the Allies would have murdered.

Feeling uncomfortable?


There's a scene in Jojo Rabbit, where Jojo and his mother come across the bodies of executed resistance fighters, hanging in the town square.

Just out in the open. For everyone to see as they go on with their daily lives.

Jojo tries to look away, but his mother physically moves his head back, and tells him 'Look.'

And that's Part 2! Check out the third and final part of this film living in my head rent-free with Part 3: The Bittersweet Tale of Captain K here.

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  1. What a great analysis, Cee! I think my quick apprehension towards the movie was articulated by some of the reviewers you mentioned, that the film may run the risk of humanising Nazis. Particularly with a ten year old boy, we're left wondering, should we chalk it up to him being manipulated by all the propaganda around him, or is he capable of his own agency and made his own choices to become a Nazi? I believe it's a bit of both. Children were corrupted in that time to follow the people around them. However, Jojo's mother clearly has different views, so Jojo did come to some of his own decisions because we know he's not being taught Nazi ideals at home.

    In any case, I think this is a movie that brings up a lot of discussion, which is a good thing!

    1. Aw, thank you Em! <3

      There's actually a line in the film where Elsa explains that Jewish people are just like the Nazis 'only human.' Which I thought was great.

      But on the other hand, if we *don't* recognise that these are complex and messy individuals, with complex and messy lives, then we run the risk of thinking that it could never happen again - when the opposite is so obviously true. There is something terrifyingly human about the capacity for cruelty and hatred - and it's not comfortable, but it's real. And I think that's important.

      Children pretty much had no choice, growing up in that environment - to disagree was to die. However it is, again, messy, because they did have a degree of their own agency, but how much was their own agency is almost impossible to judge. And Jojo Rabbit doesn't even give us the easy option of blaming the Hitler Youth leaders - which, I plan to discuss Captain K more as a character next Sunday, because there is a *lot* going on there! much going on in this film on the whole! Which is why a) I love it, and b) this has turned into 3 posts! Lol <3


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