‘Jojo Rabbit’ and Nazi Satire: Why It’s So Hard to Mock the Bad Guys, and How to Get It Right

IndieWire | 10/20/2019 | Staff
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It’s impossible to address the challenge of Nazi satire without considering “The Day the Clown Cried.” Jerry Lewis’ misbegotten 1972 production found the comedian directing himself as a Jewish entertainer at a concentration camp. To date, the completed work (if it exists at all) has never been seen. Lewis was reportedly ashamed of the project and managed to hide the footage from the world for the remainder of his life. “Jojo Rabbit” is some indication of why Lewis wanted to bury it: It’s no easy task to turn the Holocaust into a punchline.

There’s a difference between confronting evil and actually dismantling its assumptions. For all the good intentions of “Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi’s “anti-hate satire” never contends with the Nazism at its core. It would be a different story if the movie, in the grand subversive tradition of “The Producers,” appropriated Nazi iconography by positioning it in a ludicrous context divorced from ideology. Mel Brooks’ 1967 smash wasn’t actually about Nazis so much as the shock value they symbolize; it wasn’t designed to assail any specific belief system. In “Jojo Rabbit,” its child protagonist exists at the center of a Nazi-occupied universe, albeit one loaded with ludicrous caricatures. And therein lies the rub.

Movie - Nazi - Mentality - Barrage - Gags

In a movie that reduces the Nazi mentality to a zany barrage of gags, the prospect of dismantling Aryan notions of racial purity, or even instinctive hatred for the Jewish people, has no real staying power. “Jojo Rabbit” is long on vision but short on insight at a time when a searing repudiation of Nazism could really come in handy.

“Jojo Rabbit” hits theaters just a few weeks after “Joker,” and despite the murkiness of that movie’s message, there’s no question that it manages a more successful confrontation with the nature of an evil mind — the internal mechanics...
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