In the post-Trump election era, Hollywood is utterly obsessed with Nazism. They aren’t terribly interested in the actual history of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and what spawned the Third Reich. They’re obsessed with a fictionalized narrative of right-wing nationalism, cult of personality and corporatism arising in the ether that they can then slap onto their opponents to claim they’re fascists deserving violent retribution. They’ve called every conservative from William F. Buckley Jr. to George W. Bush to Mitt Romney a Nazi, and it’s always been a cynical, dismissal, political tactic that disabuses the actual horrors of Nazism (I’m not a Trump fan but there’s plenty of reasons to be mad at him without lying about him).
As such, whenever a piece of entertainment comes out nowadays about Nazis, I’m inherently suspicious. This doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s clear that whatever you can say about the piece as an individual work of art, it’s clearly coming from a place of paranoia, hostility and rage about the current administration, just as anti-Reagan/anti-’80s-conservatism films like They Live, Wall Street and Blue Velvet. Is Terrance Malick making A Hidden Life because he genuinely cares about the characters his story is exploring or because he thinks there’s going to be some nascent rise in Nazism that people must stand up to? Heck Wolfenstein II and Wolfenstein Young Blood‘s developers dog-whistled to Antifa across their advertising campaign. If you don’t believe the far-left is paranoid, look at how they treat even overtly anti-Soviet stories like Chernobyl or The Death of Stalin.
To quote FilmCritHulk at The Observer, “For a film that’s so damn funny, The Death of Stalin is actually one of the most difficult watches of the year. Occupying the space of The Death of Stalin means occupying the space of that very moment, where the parallels to horrific Trumpism could not be more clear.”
It’s amazing to watch the far-left throw communism under the bus in the name of slandering Trump…
That being said, films coming out in this environment can be quite excellent. Take Taika Waititi’s newest film, Jojo Rabbit, which is currently in limited release in major cities. Whatever you can say about its politics, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Taika cut his teeth on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords as a director of several episodes before working his way into the indie-comedy scene with excellent movies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Two years ago, he broke out into the mainstream by directing Thor: Ragnarok, one of the most celebrated recent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The director himself even appeared in that film and Avengers: Endgame in the role of Korg. More recently, he’s made an appearance in Disney+’s original series The Mandalorian in the role of IG-11. He’s credited as the director for that show’s scheduled season finale on December 27th.
Taika has earned a place as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand directors. He’s already been tapped to direct Thor: Love and Thunder, an adaptation of the Japanese anime film Akira, a sequel to What We Do in the Shadows called Werewolves and an adaptation of Next Goal Wins, which, as of this month, is about to begin production for a 2020 release date. Though a tremendously skillful and funny director, his work has shown a tendency for his slowly coming out of the closet as a far-left activist. The seeds of this started in Thor: Ragnarok, which many leftist critics such as Bob Chipman and FilmCritHulk interpreted as an exploration of why colonialist societies don’t deserve forgiveness and need to pay retribution for their sins. Thus when his immediate follow-up features Taika himself playing the role of Hitler as a young boy’s imaginary friend, it’s enough to raise an eyebrow.
That said, Jojo Rabbit is an immensely worthy and watchable film. 2019’s movie selection has largely sucked. Outside of rare bright spots such as Dragged Across Concrete, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ad Astra, The Irishman and the immense popularity Avengers: Endgame, this year has felt quite empty. Jojo Rabbit stands out as one of the most immensely personal and funny films I’ve seen all year. I’m not kidding when I say I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in years, shy of last year’s The Death of Stalin. I hadn’t laughed this hard since Taika’s own What We Do In the Shadows.
The story is just as edgy as you can imagine. Set in 1945 in Western Germany, Jojo is a young member of the Hitler Youth who is sent home from summer camp when he accidentally gets injured by a grenade during a field demonstration. While recovering at home, he discovers his mother is harboring a Jewish teenager, and he quickly realizes there’s no way to report her without getting him and his mother into trouble. For good measure, he has an imaginary friend named Hitler who is constantly egging him on to follow the Nazi Party line.
You’d think that would be overly serious and unbearable, yet it’s immensely funny. The film is a complex dance of darkness and humor interwoven together to lighten what would otherwise be a relentless film. As edgy as the premise seems, the film makes it an easy pill to swallow merely by being very funny. This proves to be a powerful contrast to several other recent, left-leaning comedians. There aren’t any references to modern politics. Jo Jo Rabbit is just a story about one boy’s coming-of-age journey. All the while, the boy learns to empathize with someone he fears, overcomes his anti-Semitism and finds a new place in the world. You can draw all sorts of parallels between this and leftist ideas about refugees and illegal immigrants, but you don’t have to do so to enjoy the film. Honestly, in an era when strains of antisemitism are getting louder on both the authoritarian strains of the far-left and the far-right, it’s comforting to see a movie that finds immense empathy in the deprogramming of irrational bigotries.
Considering Taika’s current path as a filmmaker, it won’t be surprising if he takes the plunge and starts making his films unwatchably political. Thor: Love and Thunder is already setup to be a progressive dream, exploring themes of feminism and bisexuality. On paper, I’m not necessarily opposed to these sorts of movie themes. I’m a rare right-of-center fan of The Last Jedi, which I appreciate regardless of its director’s opinions. They Live is one of the greatest movies ever made, and I could care less how much it loathes capitalism. I even really enjoyed Booksmart from earlier this year, in spite of how insipidly progressive its two lead characters are. If the quality of Taika’s work continues, it won’t matter to me how much he to tries to wedge in radical ideas in the corners. If we must endure an ultra-progressive Hollywood, for now, I’d at least like their movies to be funny.