Imagination as a way of controlling and elaborating reality
Jojo Rabitt is one of those films that surprises by creativity, after all, had anyone ever predicted that Hitler could be the imaginary friend of some child, at any time in our history?
This poetic image used in the film gives rise to many elaborations, after all, in troubled times like the one we are living in, where extreme right regimes, religious fanaticisms, exacerbation of prejudices, attempt to boycott the human rights acquired at such cost, and the growing wave of intolerance that invades various nations of the world, understanding the essence of this Hitler created in the mind of a naive child can help us understand the processes of building an ideology and socio-political manipulation.
Hitler, in Jojo's imagination, is a funny, clumsy guy, able to speak the greatest absurdities without any critical sense, as children usually do. The imaginary Hitler preaches concepts of discrimination to the Jews and to the superiority of the Aryan race in a childish, inconsequential, and narcissistic way, appealing for the unconditional acceptance of his ideas.
Jojo has no criticism of the absurdities proposed by Nazi society, nor of his imaginary friend. His idealization of the figure of the fuhrer is adapted to his own infantile ability to understand Nazi ideology.
Ideology, in a broad sense, means what would be or is ideal. This term has different meanings, and in common sense it is considered as something ideal, which contains a set of ideas, thoughts, doctrines, or worldviews of an individual or a certain group, oriented towards their social and political actions.
When analyzing the term “ideology”, there does not seem to be any problem, however, how is an ideology formed? How are ideas, thoughts, doctrines, and worldviews formed that support the basis of an ideology? Certainly, fantasy and imagination seem to play a truly relevant role in the construction of any ideology of which we are aware.
Ideologies are based on beliefs of all kinds, from humanitarian to the most segregationist.
An ideology depends on a set of beliefs and convictions that may or may not be based on the reality of the facts, or on the misrepresentation that is made about the reality of the facts.
Our view of reality is interfered with by our emotional factors all the time. Our judgment capacity is constantly affected by the information we have, but also by the reliability of those who provide us with this information. In this sense, personalities with greater leadership and persuasive skills can seduce from a single person to large groups through the eloquence and enthusiasm with which they share their ideas.
Emotion is a major factor in the creation of an ideology and the union of its followers. Being part of a relevant social group has always been an effective survival strategy, characterized by being a primordial instinctive behavior, also observed in several animals, of various species.
But what happens when we are put in a situation where our ideological beliefs and convictions are confronted sharply? This is what happened to Jojo when he discovered that Elsa, a young Jewish woman, lived hidden in her home, covered up by her mother.
Imagination and reality clash. When you know the enemy so intimately, like the one between Elsa and Jojo, and a relationship of affection and friendship is established, the paradigms are questioned. Of course, this happens in this film in which these characters are young and are not ingrained in prejudice.
Jojo's convictions are more like the speech of a parrot that repeats everything that were listened, without being aware of what he says. Elsa is aware that there are cruel and supportive Germans, as she has experienced this in her own life story.
Perhaps the biggest criticism this film makes of Nazism and radical governments is exactly this: Why do we believe what we believe? Why do we repeat what we hear without questioning whether an idea is correct?
One of the instruments used by great dictators and unscrupulous leaders is to repeat a lie so many times that it is considered a truth. There are even studies in neuropsychology that prove that our brain is so stressed by lying, that it needs protection mechanisms, that is, the brain starts to believe that something is true, after the same lie is repeated over and over, that is , a lie starts to be "felt" or believed as if it were true, since the emotional discomfort disappears.
Mass manipulation tactics constantly imply providing erroneous information, in a continuous and massive way, until a fake News is accepted as an indisputable truth.
The sacrifice of the rabbit and its symbolism
The animal chosen to be killed in the display of courage at the Nazi youth camp is a rabbit. It seems more like a test of psychopathy or perversion than of courage, which I consider an extraordinarily strong criticism of Nazism and its ideology.
Being able to kill a fragile, delicate, and helpless animal would not be exactly a test of courage, but of cruelty. Being cruel seems to be one of the demands of totalitarian regimes, incompatible with the compassion exercised by Jojo.
When we think of the rabbit as an animal that symbolizes fertility, abundance, prosperity, innocence, youth, cunning and intelligence, sacrificing the rabbit would require sacrificing the characteristics that it represents, after all, in a war, there is no space for fertility neither for plantations nor animals, human fertility itself is compromised by hunger and hard physical and psychological conditions. Abundance and prosperity need to be sacrificed symbolically, as much as innocence is actually sacrificed. Cunning and intelligence are no longer used for survival and well-being, because in a war they are at the service of destruction and power relations.
Failing to sacrifice the animal, Jojo is renamed Jojo Rabitt, since the characteristics of this animal are in perfect harmony with his personality.
Right at the beginning we realized that Jojo's imaginary friend, Adolf, has both Hitler's and Jojo's characteristics, since Adolf consoles Jojo, saying that:
Adolf: [to Jojo] Let me give you some really good advice. Be the rabbit. The humble bunny can outwit all of his enemies. He is brave, and sneaky, and strong. Be the rabbit.
Here Jojo demonstrates that he has the internal conditions to fight against the Nazi ideals that were inculcated in a forceful way. He, like other characters, finds a symbolic space where his challenge to the values of Nazism would not put him at risk for his life.
“You are not a Nazi, Jojo, you are just a 10 years old boy, wearing a funny uniform and wanting to be part of a club. You are not one of them.” Elsa
The confrontation between fantasy and reality begins
Jojo, when faced with Elsa hidden in her home, begins a relationship with her in which his convictions about the nature of the Jews come to be confronted. Elsa knows the fantasies and prejudices rooted in Nazi ideology, and starts to exaggerate the details of this fantasy, in a playful way. Both are lonely and start to occupy boredom and loneliness together.
Jojo starts to write a book about the Jews, full of illustrations and fantasies, and Elsa accepts the game of being a faithful informant about the nature of the Jews, but she takes on these characteristics in a provocative way. An affection grows between them, after all, they are just two lonely children, trying to elaborate the confusion that war, Nazism, and all the fantastic prejudices, based on a stupid ideology, brought to their lives, and how it all affected them and their worldview.
When we face the enemy face to face, we face his humanity. The projection of the shadow confronts reality, disrupting our beliefs and prejudices. After all, Elsa does not look like the Jewish monster that Jojo imagined, nor is Jojo a fierce Nazi wanting to destroy the Jews of the world. They, as individuals, do not correspond to the stereotypes of race and aggression, much less of danger to each other.
Captain Deertz (to Jojo, while examining his room): - I wish more of our boys had your blind fanaticism.
Jojo's blind fanaticism, and that of many Germans during Nazism, resembles any political or religious fanaticism.
To align the concept of fanaticism used here, I follow this definition:
Fanaticism (from the French " fanatisme ") is the psychological state of excessive, irrational and persistent fervor for anything or theme, historically associated with motivations of a religious or political nature . It is extremely frequent in paranoids, whose passionate adherence to a cause may be close to delusion.
In psychology, fanatics are described as individuals with the following characteristics:
1. Excessive aggressiveness
2. Various prejudices
3. Mental narrowness
4. Extreme credulity about a certain "system"
6. Subjective value system
7. Intense individualism
8. It takes too long in a given situation / circumstance.
It is characterized by conduct marked by radicalism and absolute intolerance towards all those who do not share their predilections.
In general, the fanatic has a unilateral, rigid worldview, cultivating the good / evil dichotomy, where evil resides in that and in those who contradict his way of thinking, leading him to adopt irrational and aggressive behaviors that can including reaching dangerous extremes, such as the use of violence to impose its point of view.
Now, when we analyze this very detailed definition, compiled from various sources, it is observed that Jojo's fanaticism does not necessarily meet the requirements, since his fanaticism is much more characterized by an imitation of a pattern of social behavior, by an emotional contagion that people are taken to when participating in a group where critical sense is not, or cannot be, present. We can even say that Jojo's fanaticism is characterized by immaturity, a need to identify with a certain group, as Elsa so well defined.
Totalitarian societies make people behave within a persona adapted to their demands, either out of fear or because they feel that they are isolated and unable to change the environment around them.
It is not easy to survive repression, fear of death itself and of our loved ones. The desire for freedom is hidden behind the desire for survival, and where there is no room for questioning, there is no development of critical reasoning. The explicit critical reasoning is very present in Rosie, Jojo's mother, and in Elsa, but it is also present in Captain Klenzendorf's speeches and attitudes, full of ambivalence and veiled criticism.
Captain Klenzendorf (for children on the training ground): - In the next two days, you little creatures will experience some of the things that the powerful German army goes through every day. And even though it seems that our country is in the background, and there really is not much hope that we will win this war, apparently, we are doing very well.
This apparently motivating lecture by Captain Klenzendorf is full of contradictions. He tries to encourage these children to participate in a war field training, but he himself does not believe in what he does, nor that the results of this training can be satisfactory. He resembles a bureaucratic employee who does what he is told, fulfills the role expected of him, but has a criticism, even if partially veiled of the whole situation. He does not seem to believe in the superiority of the German army, nor in its war training techniques. In fact, this character shows some signs of veiled compassion, which comes to manifest itself explicitly, only in his last heroic act.
In a way, Jojo was exposed to criticism of war, Nazism, and Hitler himself much more than we might have guessed at first.
Hitler himself, designed as his imaginary friend, is a compendium of Hitler's own characteristics, mixed with the fantasy of a hero (or anti-hero?) built within the universe of a naive and quite immature child.
This scene is one of the first in the film and deserves detailed attention.
Jojo is looking at himself in the mirror
Jojo: Jojo Betzler. 10 years. Today, you join the Jungvolk ranks on an incredibly special training weekend. It will be intense. Today, you become a man.
Adolf, I don't think I can do that.
Adolf: What? Of course you can. Of course, you are a little thin, and a little unpopular, and you can't tie your shoelaces, even if you're 10 years old. But you are still the best, the most loyal Nazi I have ever met. Not to mention the fact that you are very beautiful. So, you're going to get there, and we're going to have a lot of fun, okay?
Adolf: That's the spirit!
Here we see an insecure boy, with an absent father, trying to be part of and be accepted into a certain group, considered to be elite. This is one of the most effective and most vicious appeals of marketing, whether political, commercial or religious, which is to make people believe that in order to be accepted and loved they need to submit to the acceptance of a specific group, and their abuses. Ancestral societies have always had their initiation rites, which usually involved learning survival techniques, puberty, maturity, and group behavior, where the importance of collaboration, humility and courage has always been exacerbated.
Rites are important for social insertion, but when manipulated in the service of abuse and power relations, they lose their meaning and can be automated in a disintegrated way of the personality, causing, in addition to possible rejection, fanaticism and blind obedience, obstruction of development critical sense and perception of one's own limits, thoughts and emotions.
Jojo wants to be part of the Nazi youth, it is a rite of passage that is offered, not in a natural way, but forced and for vile reasons, after all, children were being trained for war, not because they were special, but because there are not adults available to fight in the war, as they were dead or maimed.
The constellation of the hero archetype can also be manipulated for false reasons, and this characterizes fanatical regimes of all kinds, where people are persuaded to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a cause or an ideal, even if this is only in service the preservation of power and the privilege of the few, as history constantly shows us.
Where the real father is absent, with his norms, limits, and reliable structures, there is an opening for the image of the archetypal father, incorporated and built by propaganda, both Nazi, and that of any totalitarian political or religious regime, to assume the status of archetypal god, being confused with the mythological characteristics of the hero figure.
The confrontation between the real and archetypal paternal image, characteristic of personality development, instead of dealing with a real father, ends up having to deal with an idealized and socially constructed father, through dark and fanatical values. Honor, the greatest value of patriarchy, is demanded in attitudes that are often not honored, in which being part of the group and its fanatical ideals replaces the feeling of legitimate belonging to a group to which we feel genuinely included. This represents a psychological violence, a violation of the individuation process, bringing serious consequences to the individual and to the society to which he belongs.
In this sense, the presence of Captain Klenzendorf, whom Rosie puts in charge of taking care of Jojo while she is absent for work, along with Finkel, her command assistant, bring the affective aspect of paternal care to Jojo's life.
These two soldiers, who do their duty in an often mocking and skeptical way, offer a playful, caring, creative aspect, where men design and create fun war uniforms, demonstrating that they themselves did not take this war with the same seriousness attributed to their positions.
Jojo: - Stop offering me cigarettes! I am ten years old!
Adolf: - Alright! Sorry, I'm stressed!
Limiting intervention and abuse is always a difficult task. Adolf offers Jojo cigarettes all the time, which he politely refuses. However, when his fanatical convictions start to weaken, he, for the first time, challenges Adolf and his insistence on insisting that he accept cigarettes, an adult's absolutely objectionable behavior towards a child. Symbolically, Jojo starts to question the toxic influence of Adolf Hitler's image in his life, and everything that this represents. Cigarettes would be the symbol of addictive behavior, capable of harming health, both in the short, medium, and long term. By emphatically refusing Adolf’s offer of cigarettes, Jojo demonstrates that he is no longer willing to accept any and all influence from his imaginary friend, explaining the inadequacy of his behavior.
The critical sense of humor introduced by several characters, including Fraulein Rahm, brings situations as absurd as Adolf's constant offer of cigarettes to Jojo.
One of the characteristics of manipulation of totalitarian regimes is to bring an embarrassing debauchery, to make the other ridiculed to bring him close to previously rejected convictions is a form of manipulation widely used in bullying, but also in the formation of groups and fraternities.
Fraulein Rahm is a spokesperson for Nazi ideas, and also for the misogynist ideal implicit in this society.
She says: - “Now, get your things together, kids. It’s time to burn some books!”, Giving a playful connotation to an act of the most transgressive against culture.
Either when she says, proudly, how many children she “supplied” to the Nazi cause, or when she offered Jojo weapons, just as Adolf offers cigarettes.
The apparently cordial gestures of both, in addition to not respecting the condition of childhood, motherhood and education, show a behavior totally dissociated from any self-criticism.
Any resemblance to some political and religious leaders is no coincidence. These tactics of manipulation and control of the masses have already been well studied.
Imagination as a playful way of dealing with reality
Jojo and Rosie, his mother, have a lot in common. Both use their imagination as a way of dealing with the harsh reality.
Jojo imagines Hitler, affectionately and intimately called Adolf, as if he were a boy at his age, clumsy like him, learning to deal with the circumstances of life, and willing to forgive his failures.
Rosie tries to use good humor and fantasy to survive the hardships of war, covering up her ideas of resistance and ideological combat against Nazism, risking her own life and that of her son to hide Elsa.
She pretends to have no appetite to save some food for Elsa, referring metaphorically to "chewing grapes", while drinking a glass of wine, as if this were enough food for her, taking with good humor the reality of the hunger experienced in times of war.
She seeks to see the lightness of the little things in life. She is warm, affectionate, both with Jojo and Elsa, keeping her company whenever possible, trying to relieve Elsa’s loneliness.
Rosie still helps Jojo face the world.
She makes him leave the house and face the shame of the scars and the problems of locomotion, caused by the disastrous explosion of a grenade. She accepts her son's fanaticism as part of a situation that is out of control for both of them, but without rejecting and condemning him for it, nor trying to remove him from his convictions, as she seems to realize that this would be a matter of time and maturation process.
Imagination and fantasy permeate a symbolic language full of complicity and affection, which characterize the mother-son relationship, but do not prevent Rosie from making her son stare the bodies hanged in the square.
Imagination and reality are not incompatible, but complementary since imagination is also an important tool for the transformation of consciousness.
Through imagination, we can rehearse people's lives, emotions, reactions, develop new repertoires of action and elaborate unconscious processes. Imagination can help us to prepare ourselves to face the reality that awaits us, and to recover our energies, in the intimate and sacred space of our minds.
Yorki - The voice of conscience
Yorki’s character brings remarkably interesting observations throughout the narrative. His naive, spontaneous, and affectionate observations bring sweetness to a story that could be much heavier than it actually is.
Yorki stands out as the voice of reason, not for his wisdom, but for the awareness of his own limits and feelings, and as a spokesman for questions that no one allows themselves to ask, he says things like:
Referring to the Jews: - “But how will we know when we see one? They can look just like us.”
Or when Jojo tries to show him that it would be enough for him to stick to prejudiced stereotypes in recognizing Jews, he says - "I think I'm just a boy in a fat child's body." Or when referring to Rosie's death, after saying that she missed her friend very much - “I am sorry for your mother. I cried for centuries when I heard what happened.”
Or in this dialog:
Jojo: - Nothing else makes sense.
Yorki: - Yes, I know. It is definitely not a good time to be a Nazi.
Or when Yorki just says that he needs to go home, see his mother, because he needs a hug, that is, now he is free to be himself, a child that needs care, affection and protection, and not be a soldier fighting in a stupid war.
Yorki does not trivialize feelings, needs, sadness, inadequacy, he recognizes his own condition as a child who must now return to his reality, that of a child who needs the care and protection of his family.
This small dialogue between Jojo and Yorki, after realizing that the Nazis had lost the war, shows the awareness, albeit childish, that things had not been correctly evaluated by them in the short time of their young lives, and that, of course, continuing to blindly follow Nazi ideology no longer made sense.
Both try to be adequate and find a place in the world, but what is the reliable example that our society sets for our young people when they place them at the mercy of blind and fanatical beliefs?
The redemption, or the process of personal and, why not, ideological maturity of Jojo, occurs when he kicks his imaginary Adolf out of the window. After all that Jojo has been through, it is no longer possible to idolize his imaginary friend anymore. In fact, is it possible that an idol was something beyond imaginary?
To idolize someone implies projecting on that someone archetypal characteristics, which go beyond human characteristics and qualities, assigning him a power and wisdom that do not correspond to the facts.
Abandoning idolatry and the projection of heroic and mythological images to figures of power can be the difference between a full or enslaved life.
The myth of salvation, and of the savior, needs to be lived and elaborated in a symbolic way, and not projected and carried as objective truth, in the figure of any "chosen" one.
Assuming our own destiny, choices, and responsibilities, and delegating to the other only what is within their human possibilities, is certainly a challenging task, and a sign that the individuation process has freed itself from some dependency and inferiority complexes.
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DIQUE, by Charles D., Borges, Madelon and GRIFFITH, Ezra EH - "Pathological Lying Revisited" - Journal of the American Academy of P sychiatry and the law. September 2005, Vol. 33 edition 3. www.http: //jaapl.org/content/33/3/342.long
GUGGENBHUL-Craig, Adolf - "Eros on crutches" - on the nature of the psychopath - Primavera Publications, Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1996
JUNG, Carl Gustav - CW VII - "Two essays in analytical psychology"
CW VIII - "The structure and dynamics of Psyche"
CW IX - "The archetypes and the collective unconscious"
CW X - "Civilization in transition"
CW XI - "Psychology and religion"
CW-XVI - "The practice of psychotherapy"
KAST, Verena - "The dynamics of symbols: foundations of Jungian psychotherapy". ISBN-10 0880642017, ISBN-13 978-0880642019
"Imagination as a space of freedom: dialogue between the Ego and the unconscious". ISBN-10 0880642025. ISBN-13 978-0880642026