Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy and War Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: October 18th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Taika Waititi Actors: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates

 


 

T

hough the end of WWII draws near, young Austrian boy Johannes Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) staunch enthusiasm for the Nazi Party’s paramilitary culture remains steadfast. Despite both his own eagerness to prove his merit at a Hitler Youth training weekend, and the encouragement of his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi), Jojo’s first day at the camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) culminates in failure. He’s unable to kill a rabbit, thus earning the nickname “Jojo Rabbit,” and also seriously injures himself with a live grenade.

He’s back on his feet relatively quickly, but Jojo must suffer pains of a physical nature (heavy scars across half his body) and of the mental variety (he’s teased by colleagues and authority figures alike). His loving mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), refuses to allow the dispirited youth to give up on himself, forcing him back into the field to do what he can to aid his party. But when Jojo discovers a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), hiding in the walls of his home, his world is thrown into chaos, compelling him to question everything he knows and believes about his unwavering nationalism.

“Today, you become a man.” Boasting the cheeriness of “The Sound of Music,” merged with the color palette of a Wes Anderson film, “Jojo Rabbit” opens with the strangest of contrasts. There’s a certain humanity, or a humanizing of Nazis, as they assume the roles and goals of seemingly ordinary people; despite the time period and this particularly severe organization, the film is given an unusual perspective – through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy – to demonstrate that conformity is easy, but the ability to learn and to change is universal. It’s undoubtedly haunting and somewhat uncomfortable to see real archival footage intercut with the introduction, as well as the implications of the uniforms and salutes (particularly with the casual nature and the repetition of the interactions). But the immediate evidence of satirization aids in alleviating concerns; “Jojo Rabbit” is incredibly goofy.

“Let me give you some really good advice.” Though it can get away with more thanks to its classification as satire (perhaps akin to “The Great Dictator,” even without the contemporary excuses and the lack of a knowable outcome at that time), a balancing act nevertheless occurs. A pointed bleakness returns with the rabbit-killing exercise, along with additional scenes of intentional ugliness, yet the humor is pervasive. Taking a note from the works of Chaplin, the picture alternates the outright laughs (including from slapstick) with pathos; the main premise has a Nazi-in-training confront his worst nightmare: the Jew metaphorically hiding under the bed. But in the sensationally whimsical world of writer/director Taika Waititi’s end-of-an-era Germany, a cataclysmic confrontation transforms into breathtaking compassion – and plenty of comical blunders along the way.

The actors here are phenomenal, not only from child star Roman Griffin Davis, who really sells the plot, but also from supporting players, each embracing highly idiosyncratic personas. Though Archie Yates is a delight in every one of his scenes, and Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Alfie Allen create a hysterical trifecta of distinct Nazi orientations, it’s Johansson who benefits most strikingly from the poignant script. The way in which she shapes the mother/son relationship is humorous, touching, and devastating in equal measure. Through these characters, the film examines the complexities of adulthood, parenthood, and childhood, occasionally distorted by the twisted visions of war and intolerance, but predominantly shown with hope and life-affirming enthusiasm. No matter how fast Jojo wishes to grow up, the generosity and mercy of those around him keep his wicked muse at bay; it might have been enough to tell the tale of a boy learning to abandon his questionable loyalties, but “Jojo Rabbit” digs deeper, adding extra layers of introspection through ingredients of maturation such as self-esteem, acceptance, accomplishment, sacrifice, and most startlingly, using Jojo’s physical deformities as a metaphorical tool for self-reflection.

“Nothing makes sense anymore.” By the end, this film does what so few realize is almost invariably potent: recurring imagery. With the simple act of tying a shoelace, the absurdist comedy components become secondary to the real tolls of war; genuine consequences, death, destruction, and fear override the flippancy of repetitive heils and stereotypical jests. Interludes of seriousness transcend “Jojo Rabbit” from mere laugh-out-loud funny send-up to a masterpiece of human nature, indoctrination, loss, love, and emotional resonance. And it certainly helps that kindness proves to be triumphant over hatred, not just in the war itself but also in the actions of the misguided.

– The Massie Twins

  • 10/10