If there’s a movie made especially for our times – at least based on the marketing so far – it appears to be Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit.
The line that jumps out at me most is the one used in the title of this post. It’s spoken by Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the Jewish girl being hidden by JoJo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). She’s confronting JoJo, who is shown as being somewhat conflicted about the Nazi-centric upbringing he’s receiving.
That one line speaks more to the state of society we find ourselves in at the end of the 21st century’s second decade than any feature-length examination of how we found ourselves at war in Afghanistan for 18 years, recountings of the 2008 financial crisis or any other film that seeks to capture a moment in time. It’s a reminder that satire and humor is frequently more timely and capable of commentary than drama.
Hate crimes are on the rise and have been for a few years, driven at least in part by the polarizing and divisive political rhetoric coming from some parties. Political protests are often attended by private citizens in full militia garb and armed with military-grade assault rifles.
The latter in particular seem to be exactly the sort of folk being addressed here. The kind that have found some sense of community in dressing as if they are themselves in the military and have some duty instead of being sad little men who lack any sense of order or purpose in life.
Those are the dangerous ones, the ones who would have been part of the same organizations JoJo joins in the movie had they been born in a different place and time. They enjoy the fear they inspire, they get a rush from intimidating others. It’s how they feel important.
When Waititi calls his movie an “anti-hate satire,” this seems to be what he’s targeting, at least in part. These people are driven by hatred and want to be part of something, so they’ll be part of something dedicated to hate.
Other films have done a good job of analyzing where we’ve been, but while satire might be what closes on Saturday night, it’s also one of the only genres capable of examining the immediate cultural moment in a clear and merciless way. It doesn’t allow for sentimentalizing, it doesn’t offer succor to potential targets, it doesn’t abide by the no-slaughter rule.
A report last month mentioned Disney, which now owns JoJo Rabbit producing studio Fox Searchlight, is a bit nervous about the movie. It’s unclear why that might be besides “alienating” fans of the Disney brand. But the only people (other than those who don’t understand what satire is) who should feel uncomfortable or alienated by this kind of takedown of hate are those who hate.
If that one single line is any indication, that group in particular will have a lot of opportunities to feel uncomfortable.