Jojo Rabbit is a film that strikes the difficult balance between terrifyingly real and terrifically hilarious. Going into this film, I had no clue what to expect. Making Nazis silly, funny, and innocent was (and still is) something I am wholly against. No comedy should be made out of a genocide – unless said comedy grapples with the true inhumanity of the time as well. Taika Waititi hits all the right notes in this movie, earning a 9/10 rating from me. Just make sure you don’t go into this movie expecting all fun and jokes – it gets dark.
This movie is as great as it is because of the expert writing and direction of Taiki Waititi. Waititi knows when to poke fun at Nazi beliefs and ideals and when to create a sense of dread, bleakness, and hopelessness. He strategically plants each scene, never having light-hearted fun and desolation too close to one another. Every scene that addresses the tragedies of war and Nazi Germany takes itself seriously and scenes that deal with the day to day life in Nazi Germany take every chance possible to fire shots at how mindlessly the society that followed Hitler acted. Every character is exaggerated in order to point out obvious flaws in their thought processes while providing comedic relief. None of this, however, is done in a way that treats the audience like children. Each joke is clever, none falling flat. If we look deeper into this film, we can see Waititi’s underlying message: society can be manipulated into committing terrible actions. In the end, we need to solve the problems within ourselves before anything else, and love will get us there.
It is the final year of WWII and the Nazis are not winning. Jojo Betzler, a 10-year-old boy, is a fanatical Nazi who wants to fight for his country and make his hero, Adolf Hitler, proud. Jojo looks up to Hitler so much that they are always by each other’s sides – Hitler is Jojo’s imaginary friend. While at Hitler Youth Camp, Jojo has an accident that gives him a scar and forces him to go home. With his mother at work, Jojo encounters a teenage girl, Elsa, who was being hidden by Jojo’s mother. Elsa, a Jewish girl, is everything that Nazism has told Jojo to fear and despise. Throughout the film, Jojo tries to learn about Elsa’s “kind” so that he can write a book about it and become famous. As he interacts more with her, however, he learns that she is nothing like what he was manipulated to think she would be, and is in fact just as human as anyone he knows.
Nazi traditions are always the butt of the joke in Jojo Rabbit. Whether they are speaking about the outrageously inaccurate news from their Fuhrer or taking comically long to salute one another, Waititi knows how to make the audience feel that Nazis were always ridiculous in their thought processes. After finding out that there is a Jewish girl in the house, Hitler suggests that Jojo should “burn down the house and blame Winston Churchill!”
At the point in the film where Jojo has accepted Elsa as another human being and decides to share his house with her, Nazi Germany is shown to Jojo for what it has always been. This is where the film makes sure no comedy is present. Germany is desperate to fight off the Allies to the bitter end. This section allows the audience to take in the cost of ignorance. People who we have seen throughout the film fight for a man who preached genocide. The color scheme of the movie switches from vibrant and saturated to dark and gray.
Each member of the cast is phenomenal in their role. Roman Griffith Davis, the 13-year-old who plays Jojo, has great comedic timing while still being able to carry the more emotional moments convincingly. His chemistry is great with Elsa, who is played by 19-year-old Thomasin McKenzie. McKenzie is able to show the brutality and destitution that her character has felt while still being able to make fun of Jojo’s misguided and nonsensical ideals. This is my favorite Scarlett Johansson role I have seen. Playing Jojo’s mother, Rosie (Johansson) sees the world for what it is. She is the bright light that guides Jojo’s character growth. She is confronting being a single mother in a time when her nation is committing atrocities. Despite her world being a depressing place, she is able to confront it and give every day her best effort. Finally, Taika Waititi as Hitler- I’ve always had a certain view of Waititi since watching Thor: Ragnarok. He wrote in a role for himself in Ragnarok that I felt could be played by someone else, and thus my view of him was tainted. Here, however, no one else should have played Hitler. Waititi provides a caricature-like representation that shows the absurdity of everything his character stands for. Most importantly, Hitler is never humanized. The audience always knows that he is ignorant and sinister, as he turns on Jojo when Jojo stops believing in Nazi ideals.
I think that Jojo Rabbit is a film that should be remembered. In a time where cries of fake news echo throughout the nation and civil rights are contested, we need to be reminded as a people that societal manipulation exists. We have a responsibility to better ourselves so as to create a better world- a world where we do not repeat the outrageous choices of the past.