Ah, the beauty of childhood. Running around with your best friends, making your own fun. It’s highly likely, however, that your childhood didn’t involve being a part of the Hitler Youth. Well, in the newest movie from triple-threat, Taika Waititi, it features just that. As well as, you know, the Gestapo, public hangings, and actual Hitler himself.
It doesn’t go amiss to question why such a successful comedy filmmaker would tackle such a risky subject. What also doesn’t go amiss, however, is how the story of Jojo Rabbit is handled. The movie follows Jojo, a 10 year old lad born in Germany in WWII.
His dedication to the war effort is apparent from the off – he marches around in his Hitler Youth uniform, knife readied in his belt, with his imaginary friend (who just happens to be Waititi as Hitler) issues rallying cries of support for his tiny friend. His mother (Scarlett Johansson) is quick-witted, unapologetic, and fiendishly brave. It seems as though its them and Hitler against the world, until Jojo makes a discovery in his very own house.
One of the first scenes in this movie immediately sets the tone for Waititi’s sense of humour. As the title sequence rolls, a German version of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is blasted over the tops of frenzied waving, excited cheering, and the odd marching soldier. Akin to the boybands of the 60s, Taiki isn’t just explaining just how Jojo feels about the Fuhrer, but belittling him at the same time.
As surprising as it may be, this movie is a delight. Jojo’s unwavering optimism in the face of a Nazi defeat is found in Elsa: the Jewish girl his mother is hiding in the walls of their house. He takes much pleasure in dissecting the exact characteristics of the Jew – although Elsa’s convoluted fibs are often taken for solid fact, including that they grow into their horns when they turn 21.
As tongue in cheek as this scene is, there is some heart to it. A sibling relationship begins to emerge, with the same mocking as a sister lying to her little brother. It’s lovely to watch, and a grounding moment in an otherwise pie in the sky kind of film. Their relationship alone is a beautiful thing to watch develop – from a scared boy discovering a strange girl in his wall, to them resting their heads on each others shoulders whilst listening to the firing of weapons, it’s one of the best parts of the film.
Despite how lovely this film is, it also has a deeper side. Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie is fighting in any way she can against the Nazi regime, leaving leaflets on cafe tables and on street corners, and assisting her husband in the rebellion that happened in Italy. Her performance reflects the stability of the maternal, and evokes the same emotions throughout. Her character is hilarious, tender, strong: she is a well-written woman.
It’s highly likely that this movie may ring as slightly distasteful – in ways, it is. But, what it does is handle the distaste in ways that make it funny. It’s a slapstick comedy of almost Monty Python proportions, but it handles this difficult topic in the same way as a drama would. There are moments of heart, of emotion, of deep sorrow – but it also shows that laughter is the best medicine for all ailments.
Overall, Jojo Rabbit is a movie that takes the magic, troubles, and excitement of childhood, and places it in Nazi Germany. Waititi’s Hitler is a ball of energy, jumping around the screen like a mustachioed puppy, and wagging his tail constantly in the direction of uneducated statement. His writing and direction moves the film from uncomfortable, to wonderous. As impossible as it may be, it seems as though Waititi has created a first: he’s written a script that reads the room.
With a ‘Heil Hitler’ count to rival the number of f-bombs in the average Tarantino films, Jojo Rabbit won’t be for everyone. What it is, however, is a wonderful story of a boy, and how he navigates his life. It also has Sam Rockwell in it wearing a cape, so there are plenty of reasons to give it a watch.