“Jojo Rabbit” is the clever Nazi Germany satire from the
brilliant mind of Taika Waititi as told through a 10-year-old’s vantage point.
The polarizing story recalls Mel Brooks own brand of satire with rich
characters supporting a unique comedy that straddles the line of incredulity. “Jojo
Rabbit” is Highly Recommended.
Imagine if you will, the worst moment in your life; it could be an accident or a death. It could be the loss of a job or some major, life-altering event. Now, think about how you cope with that event. In death, we celebrate the decedent’s life. What if that life-altering event is of such magnitude that it reminds us of its existence on a daily basis, how do you deal with that?
If you’re Taika Waititi (“The Hunt For the Wilderpeople,” “Thor: Ragnorak”), you adapt a novel called ‘Caging Skies,’ and you use it as the impetus to tell a staggeringly funny, yet tragically dramatic story about Nazi Germany from the vantage point of a 10-year old, nicknamed Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis).
Within this adaptation of Christine Leunen’s book, Johannes “Jojo” Betzler gets through his young life by calling on an imaginary version of Adolph Hitler (Waititi). Jojo lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). We don’t necessarily see much of her; she’s too busy with obligations of her own that a 10-year old might not understand, or is better off not knowing. His father is off serving the Fatherland while an older sister, Inga, recently died of Influenza.
To pass the days, Jojo and his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) attend a Hitler Youth training camp. Here we’re introduced to the oafish Captain Klenzendorf played by Sam Rockwell and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). Alfie Allen plays Finkel, Klenzendorf’s second in command.
The choice to tell this story and to use Hilter the way Waititi does supports the tender innocence of a ten year old living in a world full of hatred. Jojo’s musings with “Hitler” serve as a journal in an autodidactic way, giving Jojo much more power in influencing the outcome of his own story.
After being taunted by older members of his Hitler Youth class, Jojo is the subject of a preventable accident, which prevents him from being able to serve. In a way of keeping her son out of trouble and in good favor, she seeks out Klenzendorf to find something for Jojo to do.
As a counterpoint to Jojo’s reliance on “Hitler” and a home devoid of any parental influence, Waititi introduces us to Elsa Korr played by Thomasin McKenzie (“Leave No Trace”), who like a gutter rat is hidden in a false wall within the Betzler home. At first, Jojo responds to her with all the hatred he is taught by the system; he wants to report her at once. Slowly, the character realizes the importance of not doing so as a way of subverting the hatred.
The chemistry between Davis and McKenzie is exceptional as two fearful people on opposing sides of an ideological struggle eventually come to terms with each other. Their ongoing relationship is defined through Jojo’s interaction with “Hitler,” but Waititi doesn’t leave his mother out of their ongoing dialog. Johansson was exceptional in that regard as Rosie.
Comedy can be very little without the underpinned tragedy, which is why “Jojo Rabbit” works as well as it does. Anyone other than Waititi playing “Hitler” would have done the story a disservice. As it is, Waititi’s story walks a fine line between being disingenuous toward the millions that were affected by those events and the humor that pervades young Jojo’s vantage point.
Within that vantage point is the humor of sharing “war stories” with Yorki. Alternatively, of sharing an ideologically impossible relationship with Elsa and all the fixings of hiding who we are from the world in the face of perfection in Klenzendorf; of a mother who instilled a sense of right and wrong in her son; of being intelligent enough to understand how “Hitler” fits into his own story. That it doesn’t shirk away from the lunacy of Hilter’s utopia makes the satire that much more powerful.
A cunning satirist, and only bested by Mel Brooks, Taika Waititi is a master of understanding the tender innocence of a young and impressionable Jojo, and thus “Jojo Rabbit” has come to life.
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi, based on ‘Caging Skies’ by: Christine Leunens
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taiki Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates
R, 108 minutes, A Fox Searchlight Release