Lampooning fascism and Nazi ideology can be a tightrope walk for any director – the balance of humour and horror, a maze of potential problems. However, with Jojo Rabbit, director Taika Waititi navigates this challenge by skillfully layering his film’s humour with cutting social commentary. Waititi takes square aim at the indoctrination of youth within a classic coming-of-age template that dissects the dark power of fascism. It would be easy and all too lazy to label Jojo Rabbit as a dark comedy, but like The Death of Stalin, this is a film that delves much deeper than satirical comedy. Waititi couples his satire with deep themes of subverted innocence and parental protection while also exploring the masks people wear during times of oppression.
During the dying days of Hitler’s Third Reich, young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davies) is fully committed to Nazi ideology, his passion, imagination and boundless energy tied to the propaganda surrounding him. However, Jojo’s understanding of war and hate is clouded by his childhood logic, and his ability to see through the mists of war is held back by his hero worship of Hitler.
In his excitement for all things Third Reich, Jojo attends the local Hitler Youth summer camp, where he is determined to show the other boys his passion and strength. The camp’s chaotic and mindless activities are managed by the frustrated and medically retired Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his band of extremists, including Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) and Finkel (Alfie Allen). All three toe the Nazi Party line while hiding their insecurities and secrets. All is going well for Jojo and his imaginary friend, a child-like version of Hitler (Taika Waititi), who 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, and his weekend takes a nasty turn, leading to a new nickname, ‘Jojo Rabbit’. Desperate to make up for his failure, Jojo throws himself (quite literally) into grenade practice, but that doesn’t end well either! – his dreams of fighting for the Reich over in a heartbeat as he returns home bruised, maimed and battered.
Back at home, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johansson) silently and dutifully does her best to protect her son from the real horrors of war and her secretive battle against fascism under the cloak of night. However, her most deadly secret resides in the loft, one that, if discovered, could have devastating consequences for them both: a hidden Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).
Based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, humour and emotion flow through Taika Waititi’s film as we follow Jojo, his mother and Elsa. While wrapped in exquisite humour, Jojo Rabbit never shies away from reflecting the horrors of the Third Reich by embracing a similar balance to TV shows like Blackadder Goes Forth and Mash or movies such as Dr Strangelove. Like its screenplay and direction, the performances at the heart of Jojo Rabbit are outstanding and complex, with newcomer Roman Griffin Davies, Scarlett Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie putting their hearts and souls into their performances. Meanwhile, the contemporary score ripples with electricity by cleverly coupling modern songs that embody freedom and expression with a fantastical 1930s orchestral score. The result is a film that takes you on a heartbreaking yet humorous journey into subverted childhood innocence as Jojo’s eyes slowly open to the reality of a world built on lies, manipulation, and hate.
Director: Taika Waititi