Why I walked out of ‘JoJo Rabbit’ and loved ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’

If this is a review, it can only be a half-review.

I walked out of “JoJo Rabbit” soon after JoJo, a non-Jewish child in Nazi Germany, discovers a Jew living in secret behind his walls.

Wish me luck. I now arrive to pan the film that the majority deems funny and knowing. It’s certified fresh with an 80 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And it has netted six Academy Award nominations, proving that the emperor needs no clothes, as if we needed proof of that in 2020.

I’d say I’m beginning to question the Academy’s judgement, but such use of the word “beginning” would be wildly inaccurate, given the 2018 Best Picture award for “The Shape of Water.”

You see, we’re not big fans of things “wildly inaccurate” here at the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. This is no Mark Zuckerberg project. No algorithmic “journalism” here. We’re a newspaper.

The intent of the film, apparently, is to poke fun at hate. If we’re hip enough, we get the joke and guffaw at JoJo’s imaginary wacky friend – Hitler.

But the film – at least in the first half – doesn’t poke fun at Hitler for being wrong. It merely has him goofily prancing around the boy, a misguided child Nazi. JoJo hates or fears only because of what he’s taught, even as he himself is picked on by other haters. It’s a nice message with, in my humble opinion, a forced delivery.

I’m not a big “Hogan’s Heroes” fan, but its 168 episodes may have something for us. In that TV satire, German soldier Col. Klink is a bumbling fool who in one episode can’t find the source of a sound in the prison barracks. It’s a radio playing BBC News. Allied soldiers manage to turn off the broadcast before he and other Germans can find it. Hilarious, right?  Not really. There’s a reason for laugh tracks.

But at least this, I get. The German soldiers as fools and the Allies as outwitting manipulators feels good.

The JoJo film cuts too close for me. The antisemitic tropes hurled at the audience by “JoJo Rabbit” are nasty stuff. They aren’t lobbed at us by “Hogan’s Heroes.” Maybe there’s a reason why the “Hogan’s Heroes” men were cast as ordinary German soldiers, not hate-filled SS troopers. Maybe someone behind that show decided genocide and hateful tropes are not funny?

Maybe this is why I was never a fan of the old “Anne’s Frank House” hot dog stand in the Southridge Mall area. At least, it was named something like that, as I remember it, and Google isn’t helping me.

So those are my thoughts. For a more democratic conclusion, I refer you once more to the 80 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Some say “JoJo Rabbit” is a movie for the times, because it’s anti-hate. Maybe so. But if you’d like to see a movie that may be more for the times than 2019’s JoJo, I suggest the 1947 film, “Gentleman’s Agreement.” It’s a great piece of art.

I just saw it for the first time, and it was fascinating and disturbing to see the world depicted.

In the film, Gregory Peck plays a fictional non-Jewish magazine writer, Phil Green. He decides to live for several weeks as a Jew, then write about it. The idea is to expose antisemitism. In one scene, Green goes to the front desk at a restricted club to try to get in. He gets shown out the door. In other scenes, his fiancée is reluctant to tell her family and friends that Green is (supposedly) Jewish.

Anne Revere, playing Phil’s mother, gives a brief speech towards the end of the World War II-era film: “The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it. Maybe that’s why it’s so troubled. Other centuries had their driving forces. What will ours have been when men look back? Maybe it won’t be the American century after all … or the Russian century or the atomic century. Wouldn’t it be wonderful … if it turned out to be everybody’s century … when people all over the world, free people, found a way to live together?”

Seems like an idea worth applying to this century, too.

Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.