First Look: Jojo Rabbit—Is it OK to Make Fun of Nazis? Image

Audiences are divided on Jojo Rabbit so far.  A fair number of critics thought it was the best film of TIFF by far and even an all-time great film.  Others thought the Holocaust is too serious a subject, and ought to be off-limits to comedy, even if the material doesn’t address the Holocaust directly.  I talked to Jews, in particular, all through the full spectrum of opinion.  While folks in the US are working through what’s ok or not ok to joke about via canceling comedians, people have had nearly three-quarters of a century to ruminate over the evils of WWII and what can be said about it.  There’s not really consensus, but that’s the great part — the tradition of debate is tremendously strong in the Jewish cultural tradition.  No one person’s position can stand for everyone.  There’s also a sense of proportionality.  Committing murder or supporting it is an entirely different thing than making a comment about it, and the spirit of the comment matters.  I think there are a lot of lessons there that are applicable to more subjects than WWII.  

It is also worth noting that Waititi is of Jewish descent on his mother’s side (his father is Māori).  In fact, at the premiere, he mentioned that the movie came about because his mother recommended a book by Christine Leunens called Caging SkiesJojo Rabbit is partly based on it, though he joked that it is more based on his mother’s recollection of it than the book itself.

“Others thought the Holocaust is too serious a subject, and ought to be off-limits to comedy“

Making fun of Nazis, or finding light-hearted moments in the bleakest moments of war is nothing new.  My grandparents, who served in WWII, used to watch Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H.  What’s changed is that there is a new generation of people who feel that no one should be allowed to offend them.  In my mind, that’s more akin to the Nazi book burning than to the spirit of freedom that the Allies represented.  But at the same time, I understand the argument that while you should be allowed to make movies with comedic elements about the Holocaust, it is tasteless to do so.  Given the ways that Jojo Rabbit addresses this, I didn’t have a problem with it in this specific case.

The best answer I can give on the subject is that whether or not it is ok to make fun of Nazis is that it depends on how you do it.  If it is frivolous, then it could be damaging.  But if you treat the Holocaust itself with the utmost respect, and only make fun of the Nazi ideology, while reminding us that they also committed atrocities, then it can work.  It is a tightrope act, but in my opinion, and seemingly the overwhelming majority of the TIFF audience, Jojo Rabbit pulled it off.

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