Lampooning fascism and Nazi ideology in a film can be a tightrope walk for any Director. With the sensitivities of history still raw and full of emotion for many viewers. Hence creating a need to balance humour with the real horror of war and hate. And with Jojo Rabbit, Director Taika Waititi manages to walk this tricky tightrope by layering the film’s humour with cutting social commentary. Taking square aim at the indoctrination of youth, while mixing it with a classic coming of age tale. Ultimately creating a sharp and humorous dissection of 1930s and 40s fascism.
It would be easy to label Jojo Rabbit as a pure black comedy. However, much like The Death of Stalin this is a film that delves much deeper than its comedic roots. Coupling its masterful humour with a narrative that embodies themes of subverted innocence and parental protection. While equally discussing the masks people wear as protection during times of oppression.
Taking place during the dying days of Hitler’s Third Reich. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davies) is a boy fully committed to the Nazi ideologies surrounding him. His passion for his country tied to the propaganda of fascism. At the same time, as his understanding of war and hate are blinded by innocent childhood logic and acceptance.
In his palpable excitement for all things Third Reich, he goes along to the local Hitler Youth summer camp. Where he is determined to show the other boys his credentials and bravery in fighting for Germany. The camps chaotic and mindless activities managed by the frustrated and medically retired Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). And his band of extremist associates Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) and Finkel (Alfie Allen). All three toeing the party line while hiding their insecurities under a blanket of ideological protection.
All is going well for Jojo and his imaginary friend; a child-like version of Hitler (Taika Waititi). Who unseen by others steers Jojo through the trials and tribulations of the camp. However, it’s not long before Jojo is instructed to kill a rabbit by the older boys. His weekend taking a turn for the worst as the reality of causing harm to an innocent creature proves too much. Earning him the scorn of the older boys and the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’.
Meanwhile, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johansson) silently and dutifully does her best to protect her son from the real horrors of war. Hiding from him from her secretive battle against the fascism that has engulfed their lives. However, her passion for equality and justice also hides a secret in the loft of the family home. One that if discovered, would have devastating consequences for them both. The protection of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) a teenage Jewish girl who was friends with Jojo’s late sister.
Humour threads through the deeply touching screenplay written by Taika Waititi based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. The films satirical roots placing strength into the hands of Jojo, his mother and Elsa. In contrast, to those who follow the Nazi cause blindly, all of whom are the subject of humour. The film equally not shying away from the horror of the Third Reich by cutting through the comedy with moments of devastating emotional power.
Some may struggle with the very idea of comedy as a tool in reflecting war and hate. But, it is the mix of comedy and drama that ensures Jojo Rabbit’s success in delving deep into themes of human conditioning, blind allegiance and individual rebellion. While also reflecting the power of ideological and politically driven hate in engulfing young minds. With the need to challenge power and speak truth to those who wield it central to Jojo’s journey.
Meanwhile, performances are exquisite, with newcomer Roman Griffin Davies shining on the screen. His outstanding debut combining with the beautifully nuanced performances of both Scarlett Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie. Both of whom embody strong female characters, who provide a balance of love and protection in a sea of conflict and hate. While the films contemporary score ripples with electricity, by cleverly introducing modern songs that embody freedom and expression. Alongside a sublime classical score by Michael Giacchino that echoes the darkness and light of Jojo’s story.
Ultimately this creates a film that takes you on a journey both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. As we witness Jojo’s eyes slowly opening to the reality of a world built on lies and manipulation. The darkness of hate giving way to the light of freedom and hope.
Director: Taika Waititi