Runtime: 109 Minutes
Writer/Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson
By Mique Watson
“Jojo Rabbit” is–at first glance–quite the peculiar film. It opens up with vintage footage of Nazi Germany; Hitler-hailing fascist nutjobs going wild in exaltation over their idol. All this while a German rendition of The Beetles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” plays…this is the part where you, the viewer, may start to scratch your head in bewilderment, then utter to yourself what I did during this sequence: What. The. Hell.
This is unlike any comedy we’ve seen in recent memory. Sure, we’ve certainly seen lots of comedy flicks as of late–mostly with names like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and Melissa McCarthy attached to them (no shade to anyone who willingly pays to see the films these comedians star in; I, however, do not particularly find joy in watching adults act like nettlesome tykes). A dearth of smart, gutsy comedy there certainly is. So imagine my shock and awe at sitting through a funny flick which not only examines complex aspects of the human condition, but which has something many of today’s so-called comedies lack: BALLS.
To be frank with you, I am dumbfounded this film even exists; in this lifetime, on this planet, in this generation. There’s not one trivial thing about it; its ballsiness is used to–clichéd as this terms sounds–subvert expectations. It presents a familiar subject: though this time, framed from the perspective of a young, innocent boy whose worldview has been warped and corrupted by the people and institutions around him. Fascism is lampooned here, and rightfully so, but fascism’s ideas–and how these ideas can easily corrupt a nation of complicit and idealistic individuals–are present in the subtext. A subtext which argues against hate, just to be clear.
I am dumbfounded this film even exists; in this lifetime, on this planet, in this generation. There’s not one trivial thing about it; its ballsiness is used to–clichéd as this terms sounds–subvert expectations.
The young, innocent boy in question is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young lad growing up in 1940’s Nazi Germany. With his bright-eyed gaze, ecstatic smile, and golden hair, one would be crazy to call this youngster anything but adorable…Tragically, all this gets undermined whenever Jojo opens his mouth: “Heil, Hitler!”, he says, with gusto. It is made apparent, early on, that he has willingly accepted every piece of Nazi, Fascist, Anti-Semitist piece of propaganda he’s been fed.
Hitler (Taika Waititi–who also writes and directs) appears to Jojo as an imaginary friend. It’s worth noting, though, that Waititi is Jewish-Māori; his version of Hitler is meant to serve as an amalgamation of ideas in Jojo’s head, given all the propaganda he’s absorbed. Thus, I’m sure you can assume that Waititi’s depiction of Hitler is an uproariously comedic one.
Jojo’s worldview is challenged when he realizes his own mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been using their house to give refuge to the worst thing Jojo can imagine: a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). The reprehensible ideologies Jojo once believed to be the only valid form of truth in the world start to get chipped away with every interaction he has with Elsa. Elsa hiding in Jojo’s house, and a particular scene involving patrol officers performing a surprise inspection, comes as a surprise…it comes with a sharp shift in tone; what once was all merry and bright has become now nail-biting.
Several other departures from comedy come part in parcel with Jojo’s mother, Rosie. Two particular scenes I can recall involving her: one which I shall not reveal; the other involving her and Jojo nonchalantly coming across the aftermath of a public hanging. The hanged individuals are not gratuitously shown, but their un-moving lifelessness and dangling legs cause Jojo to ask Rosie about what they did to deserve this. Her response: “What they could”. These tonal shifts are used in the service of balancing the film’s goofy moments with the seriously dark ones; through this, we know Waititi is wholly interested in not just parodying these real-life horrors, but acknowledging them.
It is a reminder that the only way to debunk and argue against an idea is, not to silence it, but to examine it…though many of us struggle to listen to ideas of those we disagree with; Waititi’s solution to this? Comedy.
One could actually argue that this film is not directly about the Holocaust (A Schindler’s List spoof, this certainly is not); but despite that, using “Hitler” and “comedy” in the same sentence is–in many, if not all cases–a huge No-No. I’m sure we can all recall when Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” had the British Government in panic. Granted, “Dictator” came out in 1940, “Rabbit” came out last year. What’s undeniable, though, is the shadow WWII has cast on all of us, collectively, throughout history; thus, joking about it may come off as problematic to some.
Thankfully, though, Waititi’s effort here is one which remains relevant, in how it ultimately conveys an untimely message of vigilance to the viewer. It is a reminder that the only way to debunk and argue against an idea is, not to silence it, but to examine it…though many of us struggle to listen to ideas of those we disagree with; Waititi’s solution to this? Comedy. Incredible comedy; the kind which means something; the kind which has a biting satirical edge to it. All that, with a strategically placed David Bowie tune to top it all off and alleviate the sadness which the film doesn’t deny you.