Lampooning fascism and Nazi ideology can be a tightrope walk for any Director. The sensitivities of history still raw and full of emotion for many. Therefore creating a need to balance humour with the true horror of war and hate. With Jojo Rabbit, Director Taika Waititi takes aim at the indoctrination of youth, while mixing a coming of age tale with a biting and humorous dissection of fascism. Ultimately delivering a film that is destined to divide opinion among audiences and critics alike.
It would be easy to simply label Jojo Rabbit as a black comedy. However, this is a film that delves much deeper than just its comedic roots. Coupling its masterful humour with a narrative embodying themes of subverted innocence and parental protection. In addition to a discussion on the masks people wear to protect themselves at times of oppression.
Taking place in the dying days of Hitlers Third Reich. We join 10 year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davies) a boy fully committed to the Nazi ideologies surrounding him. His passion for his country tied to the propaganda of fascism. His understanding of war and hate dovetailing blinded by childhood logic and acceptance.
Jojo’s palpable excitement for all things Third Reich takes him to the local Nazi summer youth camp. Where he is determined to show the other boys his credentials and bravery in fighting for the German Reich. The chaos of the camp 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 characters toeing the party line. While also hiding their own insecurities and desires under a blanket of ideological protection.
All is going well for Jojo and his imaginary friend; a child like copy of Hitler (Taika Waititi) who steers him through the trials and tribulations of the camp. However, on being instructed to kill a rabbit Jojo’s weekend takes a turn for the worst. The reality of causing harm to an innocent creature too much for the young wide eyed boy. Earning him the scorn of the older boys and the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’.
Meanwhile, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johansson) does her best to protect her son from the true horrors of war. Consequently hiding him from her own secretive battle against the fascism that has engulfed their lives. Her passion for equality and justice leading her to hide secrets that if discovered would have devastating consequences for them both. One of these being the protection of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) a local teenage Jewish girl residing in the loft of the family home.
On discovering Elsa, Jojo’s world is turned upside down, with confusion gripping his young mind. As the indoctrination of his Nazi beliefs clash with the girl hiding in his loft. His mothers actions in protecting Elsa leading him to search for understanding. While the girl in the loft defies the antisemitism he has come to accept.
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 cutting through the comedy. Creating moments of devastating emotion and power.
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. Ultimately speaking not just to the past, but also the present rise of far right ideology across our world.
Taika Waititi’s film never seeks to diminish the destruction and oppression of Nazism. Balancing the power of politically driven hate with its ability to engulf the minds of young and old alike. The films narrative understanding the trappings of self protection during times of war. Where people often hide under the wings of an ideology in fear of their own life ending. Even if they disagree with the political beliefs at its heart.
Performances are exquisite with newcomer Roman Griffin Davies shining on screen. His outstanding debut combining with beautifully nuanced performances from both Scarlett Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie. Both embodying strong female characters, who provide a balance of love in a sea of conflict and blind allegiance. While the films contemporary score ripples with energy, cleverly integrating songs that 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 slowly opened to the reality of a set of beliefs forged through lies and manipulation. The darkness of hate giving way to to the lightness of freedom and hope.
This is both brave and bold filmmaking that proudly follows in the footsteps of Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator‘, and Mel Brooks ‘The Producers‘. With a film that proudly celebrates the power and importance of comedy as tool in dissecting hate and oppression.
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen.