Jojo Rabbit (2019)
director: taika waititi | runtime: 1H 48mins | comedy, war
After blowing himself up in the Hitler Youth Camp, Jojo (Roman Griffith Davis) is unable to join Hitler’s army. Now spending most of his time at home, he discovers that his Mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in her room.
Taika Waititi has become one of the most revered comedic directors in a long time for the fact that what he creates is both pulpy and smart, using his particular voice (sometimes literally) to give life to unique stories and even revitalising a franchise character in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). In 2019 Taika has taken a chance on history, using his particular brand of comedy to spread a little anti-hate in the form of a satire. The hate he is mocking, hilariously I might add, is that of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler himself.
There are two mindsets when watching Jojo Rabbit, one is that Waititi’s mockery doesn’t capture the hardship that people suffered during the time, or that the film actually tells the story with great nuance and makes you laugh beginning to end. I prefer to think it’s the latter, as the film consistently gives you laughs, to which we laugh with the main characters and then at the Nazi’s themselves because of the absurdity of their views. Waititi is quick to balance this all while finding time to be heart-breaking and observant. Particular highlights see a SS squad, lead by Stephen Merchant, constantly ‘heiling’ each other as people come and go in the house. Another is Alfie Allen’s and Sam Rockwell’s dynamic throughout a film, and also the standout is the director himself playing Hitler as a figment of Jojo’s imagination.
Not only is it the funniest dynamic we see in the film, it’s also proof that Waititi is creating layers, that his film is still a reflection of the time but also of it’s absurdity. Waititi’s Hitler is actually imaginary, only conversing with young Jojo every time he questions his beliefs and reinforces the Nazi ideals once again. This kind of personification makes it all the more scarier, highlighting just how much control and manipulation went into the youth of Germany at the time. This is so excruciatingly shown in the conversations between Jojo and Elsa (played wonderfully by Thomasin McKenzie), as there juvenile talks lead to Jojo comfortably spewing hatred towards her as if he was making small talk with a neighbour. It’s these small moments that make up the film’s underlying message, always choosing a laugh but never forgetting the people they are portraying.
The ‘anti-hate’ is in full focus when Jojo’s Mother (Scarlett Johansson) comes onto the screen. Her outside life make her a rebellious figure, but what the film focuses on is the relationship between her and her son. That alone is a beacon of hope against the countries tyranny, as she brushes off his nonsensical propaganda as childish passion and distracts Jojo with a dance or a performance. Probably the most charming aspect of this film is their relationship, and it’s backed up by the wonderful chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Roman Griffith Davis, never outshining each other but using one another to elevate the authenticity of their relationship as well as providing the film with some of it’s most harrowing scenes towards the end.
It’s safe to say that Waititi has had a good run with his child casting in recent years, with Julian Dennison being a highlight of Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), but it seems he may have nailed it with Jojo himself, Roman Griffith Davis. Even through all the quality performances on display, Davis manages to propel himself ahead of the bunch, finding a charm and endearing quality despite his characters beliefs. Jojo, while passionate in his political beliefs, is still a good person. Seen as timid to his peers, Jojo’s transition from wannabe Nazi to loving son is rightly earned every step of the way thanks to it’s leading star and despite the misguided hatred that he speaks, Davis plays the character with such childish wonder and charm that it’s impossible not to love him from beginning to end.
Davis plays the character with such childish wonder and charm that it’s impossible not to love him from beginning to end.
While it does take a while for Waititi’s anti-hate satire to really show it’s true colours, it’s still a welcome testament to the directors unique ability, something that has been putting him at the top of the comedic food chain for the past few years. From funny to heartwarming to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye, it seems Jojo Rabbit has much more to say than the surface suggests. Even after all is said and done and you still find yourself on the fence, we can all agree that there is nothing more satisfying than watching a young Jojo boot Adolf Hitler out of a window so convincingly.