I know if Hitler could see this movie, he wouldn’t like it, which is exactly why it’s so good.
Never in a million years did I think a movie about the Holocaust would make me laugh out loud. That was until I saw "Jojo Rabbit," the Academy Award-winning World War II dramedy about a ten-year-old boy in the Hitler Youth program, whose imaginary friend is the one-balled dictator himself (played by director Taika Waititi). Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) believes he is a Nazi, and will do anything to win the approval of his fuhrer; that is until he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic, and is forced to confront his blind nationalism.
"Jojo Rabbit" is unique in its portrayal of World War II because the script is undeniably silly and fun. Jojo’s imaginary-friend version of Hitler is a personified ten-year-old’s brain, with all of its inherent exaggerations, silliness, and blind emotion. And it just so happens to be represented by one of the most ruthless, despicable human beings of all time. This is truly where "Jojo Rabbit" shines—not only is it written with clever, tasteful humor, but it is extremely satisfying as a viewer to see a figure who caused so much death, pain and suffering, to be so belittled. Overall, it feels good to laugh at Hitler.
In addition to humor, the film also has an incredible balance of heartfelt moments, as well as heartbreak. The beginning gives the story its heart, especially when Jojo connects with his mother, and with Elsa, the girl hiding in his attic. The heartbreak comes starkly, and seemingly out of nowhere, and the movie becomes very unfunny, very quickly. This choice is disorienting at first, but depicts the true meaning of the narrative beautifully. Ultimately, "Jojo Rabbit" is about a young boy unlearning everything that he has been brainwashed to "believe" — believe being in quotation marks, because his motives and opinions do not really come from him, but rather from the overwhelming force of his government.
This was a common occurrence in Nazi Germany, and is a scary parallel to reigns of hatred across the world today: often, dictators’ most loyal followers are the children who worship them blindly. When the atrocities of Nazism finally become real to Jojo, and affect him directly, he understands the horrors of it, thereby undergoing a loss of innocence that is so valuable to see on the big screen.
"Jojo Rabbit" also consists of aesthetically pleasing cinematography, and is edited with a careful hand. The costumes, set design, sound editing, and framing evoke "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012) vibes, while also being incredibly unique in and of itself. In other words, it’s not a direct or intentional copy of Wes Anderson's work, but it uses similar color palettes and framing techniques to create a fresh look at historical fiction, which the genre has desperately needed.
- Final Thoughts -
"Jojo Rabbit" is quirky, beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, powerful, poignant, and lovable. The humor is tasteful and clever, and pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the Nazi party without undermining its reign of terror, or the atrocities it committed. The film points out the simultaneous idiocy and sheer force of hatred, which is applicable to nationalism globally to this day. The shift from fun to tragedy is extremely stark, and may be seen as random or unsettling, but appears to be an intentional decision. I know if Hitler could see this movie, he wouldn’t like it, which is exactly why it’s so good.
("Jojo Rabbit" image courtesy of The Verge)