Saturday, 18 January 2020

JoJo Rabbit - Undoing the Propoganda

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davies, Thomasin MacKenzie, Scarlett Johanson
Release: 8 November 2019
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 95%

Imagine being a little boy who has grown up knowing only one world, and one thing, and then suddenly discovering that this whole world is actually a lie. In fact, imagine being a little boy of about the age of 10 who has grown up being told that a certain people are horrid demonic monsters, only to discover that, once again, this is all a lie. Well, not even that, but actually meeting somebody who completely dispels this whole concept that has been fed to you all of your life.

Well, this is the story of Jojo Rabbit, a movie about a young boy, Johannes Betzler, who is living at the closing stages of World War II. The catch is that we are seeing the world from his eyes, which if we do the maths we can work out that he was born somewhere between 1934 and 1935 - after Hitler had basically taken control of Germany. As such, the only world that he knows is the world that is basically Nazi Germany.

Also, taking into account the locale, and the architecture (as well as the fact that the Americans had taken control of the town at the end of the film - I know, spoiler alert, but come on, it isn't as if we don't know who won World War II), we can figure out that the movie took place possibly in Bavaria or one of the other states of Southern Germany. This means that there was probably little impact from the war as it was, considering that much of Bavaria remained relatively untouched by the relentless bombing campaigns.

So, we have this little boy, who has only been taught, and only knows, Nazi ideology. Yet, he is a proud Nazi, going as far as actually having Hitler as an imaginary friend. Mind you, this film is somewhat of a black comedy as well, and if you are familiar with Waititi's work (which in many of our cases probably does not extend much beyond Thor Ragnarok), we will know what his humour is actually like. Yeah, there as been a suggestion that directors don't direct Disney movies - Disney directs Disney movies - yet from watching this film, I have come to understand how Waititi goes about constructing a movie.

Now, the fact that I am writing a blog post about this film probably tells you that there is something that really struck a chord in me as I watched it. Further, it probably also suggests that I really, really liked the film, namely because if I didn't I probably would have just posted an IMDB review and left it at that. Well, due to the restrictions on IMDB, and the fact that one can't really explore films as deep there as I can here, let us go on from here.

But first, the trailer:

So, What Happens

Well, I've probably said everything that I can say about the plot of this film, because it really is a film that is more about relationships than anything else. So, Jojo is a member of Hitler Youth, but he is a small and scrawny lad. He earned the name Jojo Rabbit because during one of the training sessions he had to prove his manliness by killing a rabbit, but instead he let it go. Of course, he ended up being the laughing stock of the group and he runs away.


You know how I mentioned that he had Hitler as an imaginary friend? Well, this imaginary friend rocks up, gives him a pep talk, causing Jojo to run back to his friends, and, well, a little accident happens which sends him back home (I won't tell you what it is because, well, it would be a spoiler). So, this devoted little Nazi finds himself back in town having to do things that people do who can't quite go to war, like putting up propaganda posters, and collecting metal for the war effort. Of course, another interesting thing is that while we, the viewer, know how the war is going, Jojo doesn't.
Anyway, one day he is in one of the upstairs bedrooms and discovers something odd - what looks like a secret door. So he opens it and low and behold, hidden in this room is a young girl. Well, in Jojo's (and our) minds there is only one type of person that would be hiding in a hidden compartment in Nazi Germany - that would be a Jew. Well, Jojo works it out pretty quickly, and what is ironic is that his fears, and the propaganda that has been fed to him, sort of plays out as this girl, Elsa, gets the better of him, and not only takes his Hitler Youth knife but all of the other knives that he comes at her with.

Yet, the thing is that what we are seeing through this film is how they slowly build a relationship, and how everything that Jojo has been taught through his life is slowly being undone. In fact we watch as his beliefs are slowly destroyed one by one, as everything that he thought he believed to be true turns out to be a lie. Yet, on the other hand, we see other characters, such as Captain Klenzendorf, who says one thing, yet his actions betray a completely different side to his character.

Gaslighting

I've probably talked about this in a previous post, but I have written so many posts now I honestly can't remember which one it was. However, I'll just link the Wikipedia article rather that go into a full definition of it, other than to say that it is the act of manipulating an individual so that their perception of reality has been changed. In a way, this probably also applies to the term Propaganda.  Yeah, in a way the difference is that Gaslighting applies mostly to a single person, whereas Propaganda applies to a much larger group.

So, you could consider that the people of Germany had been gaslighted, particularly when it came to the Jews. Now, don't get me wrong, the Jews weren't the only people that were being scapegoated - the Homosexuals, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Gypsies, were all subject to the Nazi concentration camps and the 'purification' of society. However, it is the Jews that stand out in our mind probably because they were the largest segment of society that were targetted.

Though, the interesting this is that we are also told that Jews have the ability to control people's minds. This struck a chord in me because as we watch the interaction between Elsa and Jojo we can see how Elsa uses language to protect herself. When Jojo first encounters her, she tells him that his mother doesn't know that she is there (which is a lie) and that if he tells anybody, she will just say that he was the reason that she was there. Further, she points out that the authorities will deal with both him, and his mother, rather brutally for the traitors that she will claim that they are.


Do you see what is happening here? Maybe the mind control comment isn't too far from the truth, because now Jojo realises that he simply cannot run out of the house and tell the Gestapo that there is a Jew hiding in his walls. Yet, when we speak of mind control, we usually think of people having psychic powers forcing us to do things that we wouldn't normally do. However, isn't that what propaganda actually is? A form of mind control. For instance, turning people against their friends and neighbours by convincing them that their friends and neighbours aren't really their friends and neighbours is a means of controlling one's thoughts.

However, in another aspect we have young Jojo who has never known anything other than Nazi Germany. This was what many of the soldiers discovered when they actually entered the country during the war. It turned out that many of the young people have been so brainwashed by Nazi propaganda that they didn't see this as other countries liberating them from an oppressive government, but rather a full-blown invasion that they must repel.

Racism

This is the second big thing that challenges us in the film. The sad reality is that we live in a world of us and them. Sure, we fought and defeated the Nazi's, but racism is still with us - in fact, it never went everywhere. For instance, we were horrified that the Germans sent the Jews to concentration camps and executed them en mass, yet here in Australia, we set up a program that was intended to systematically annihilate the First Nations people by simply breeding them out of existence. Further, when the Labour Party, after winning power, decided to apologise to the First Nations people, there were quite a few people, and politicians, who reacted quite strongly against that.

Hitler won elections, and took power, by scape goating the Jews, and we were horrified at where that leads us. Yet, we still see it happening today, though while it may not be the Jews that are targetted, it may be the Mexicans, who are being described as rapists and murders, and we are being warned of the Muslim and Asian swarms that are about to swarm over Australia and destroy our way of life. In fact, the conservatives in Australia are continuing to win elections simply by race-baiting and calling upon the fears of the people smugglers who are simply waiting for a weak government to be elected so they can continue to ply their trade.

The problem is that as long as there is an us and them mentality, it prevents us from actually getting to know these people. This was the case with Jojo because he had one idea of what Jews were like, yet when he actually met, and began to converse with a Jew, he suddenly discovered that maybe, just maybe, they weren't as bad as he was being told. In fact, maybe, just maybe, Hilter was actually lying.

In a sense what we have is racial profiling - a profile is set up of a certain race, and we are told that all races are like that - all Muslims are terrorists, all First-Nation peoples are violent drunks (in reference to Indigenous Australians), all Mexicans are rapists. Sure, we might actually know a Muslim, or a First Nation person, or even a Mexican - but we claim that these people are the exceptions as opposed to the rule. In fact, this type of profiling works to exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. We fear the First-Nation peoples, and proceed to marginalise them, and they, in turn, are forced into gangs. We are seeing it now in Australia where the right-wing media are now attacking African youths, when I can assure you that white Australia youths also form gangs, and can be just as bad (or even worse - if we consider the white supremacists).

Yet, the one thing that struck me was how, just by looking at Elsa, nobody would have known whether she was a Jew or not. We assume that this is the case because she is hiding in a secret compartment. Oh, she wouldn't have had any papers either, so couldn't have proved her identity, but besides that, simply by looking at her, we would have thought that she was just a German. In fact, Hitler had to make up characteristics to describe what Jews looked like, because, well, they just looked like everybody else.

However, with racism on the rise, we are beginning to discover that people that have different skin colours or don't speak the language as well as they could, are starting to be targeted. Further, there is this idea of 'Australian Values', and that unless they are willing to adopt Australian values, then they are not welcome. However, this is just a vague concept, that it almost reeks not only of the 'White Australia Policy' but also the destruction of unique cultures that could come in and transform our culture for the better.

Anyway, I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for the time being, because no doubt, sooner or later, something will come about where I will continue along this train of thought.


 
Creative Commons License

JoJo Rabbit - Undoing the Propaganda by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net

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