Lampooning Nazi ideology and right wing fervour is a tightrope walk for any Director. Balancing the need to reflect the horror of right wing extremism. With a need to satirically dissect the hate and oppression at its heart. With Jojo Rabbit, Director Taika Waititi takes square aim at the indoctrination of youth, mixing coming of age themes with a biting humorous dissection of hate and oppression. Creating a film that will undoubtably divide opinion among audiences and critics alike.
It would be easy to label Jojo Rabbit as pure black comedy. However, while this is a film with plenty of laughs, it also embodies themes of coming of age; parental protection; the masks people wear to protect themselves and the subversion of childhood innocence, imagination and hope.
10 year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davies) is obsessed with the Third Reich, and is fully committed to a set of beliefs born out of Nazi propaganda. His passion for his country tied to the dangerous ideology of fascism. An ideology he can only comprehend through childish logic and acceptance.
Jojo is excited about his weekend trip to the local Nazi Youth camp. Determined to show his Nazi credentials to the instructors and the other boys. The chaotic and anarchic camp managed by the frustrated and medically retired Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). Alongside his band of extremist associates Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) and Finkel (Alfie Allen). All three toeing the party line while hiding their own insecurities and desires under a blanket of ideological protection.
All is going well for Jojo and his imaginary friend, a childish copy of Hitler (Taika Waititi) who steers him through the trials and tribulations of the camp. Jojo’s imaginary Hitler full of childlike actions mixed with the hate of the real deal. Jojo’s weekend only takes a turn for the worst when he is instructed to kill a Rabbit, and can not bring himself do it. The reality of causing harm to an innocent creature too much for the young wide eyed boy. Earning him the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and the scorn of the older boys.
Meanwhile, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johansson) does her best to protect her son as the war nears its end. Hiding from him from her own battle against the fascism that has thrown a veil over their lives. Her home hiding a secret that could lead to devastating consequences. A teenage Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) who is living in the loft.
While his mother is out Jojo discovers Elsa hiding, his world turned upside down, confusion gripping his young mind. The Nazi ideas he has been fed clashing with the reality of the real Jewish girl hiding in his loft. Jojo searching for ways to understand the actions of his mother, and the strange girl who defies the antisemitism he has come to accept. Jojo’s imaginary version of Hitler offering advice that slowly separates from his own understanding as he begins to define his own views.
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. While those who follow the Nazi cause blindly are the subject of humour.
The horror of the Third Reich is not forgotten, in scenes that cut through the humour to create moments of devastating emotion. Some may struggle with a film that covers such a dark point in human history in such a witty and playful way. But, Jojo Rabbit delves deep into human conditioning, blind allegiance and the bravery of rebellion among a sea of sharp satire. Creating themes that feel just as relevant today as they did 70 years ago in a modern world where far right views are growing.
Jojo Rabbit’s cinematography is gloriously bathed in rich Autumnal colour. Signifying the slow death and decay of the Third Reich as Germany approached a winter of destruction, liberation and divide. The true horrors of Hitler’s tyranny falling to the ground like the dead leaves on a tree. The end of Jojo’s childhood of blind faith and subverted innocence replaced by the dawning of adolescence and new ideas. Hate evaporating under enlightenment.
Waititi never seeks to dismiss history, or let those who committed horrendous acts off of their crimes. But in turn also understands the power of politically driven hate, oppression and fascism. And its ability to ensure that people hide under its wings in fear even when they do not fully believe in its ideological horror. While children are easily malleable in ensuring the continuation of an ideology through simple propaganda.
Performances are exquisite. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davies shining on screen alongside two beautifully nuanced performances from Scarlett Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie. Both playing strong female characters, who provide the balance of love in an ocean of conflict and blind allegiance. While the films contemporary score ripples with energy, integrating songs that cleverly embody freedom and expression.
Jojo Rabbits mix of cutting satire and heartfelt emotion, creates a film that takes you on a journey into the darkness and light of humanity. A journey that is both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. Jojo’s eyes opened to the reality of beliefs forged through lies and manipulation. The darkness of hate giving way to to the lightness of freedom and hope.
This is brave and bold filmmaking of the highest order. There is of course an inherent risk in using humour in the context of a one of the darkest points in human history. This risk will undoubtedly lead some to feel uncomfortable about any film daring to satirise Hitler and the Third Reich. However, the importance of comedy should never be minimised or dismissed in its powerful ability to critique human behaviour. Jojo Rabbit walks in the footsteps of Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator‘, and Mel Brooks ‘The Producers‘. In shining a light on the past and present, using humour and emotion to make us all question how ideas, values and beliefs can be subverted into hatred, genocide and destruction.
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen.