*SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING*
Several people had imaginary friends as children. But perhaps none as strange as Jojo, whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler.
In simple terms, the film “Jojo Rabbit” is about a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany. The director and writer of this film is Taika Waititi, one of my favorite filmmakers. His work is diverse, including cult classic gems like “What We Do In The Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” as well as blockbuster films like “Thor: Ragnarok”. Waititi has an incredible grasp at balancing comedy with tragedy, allowing him to cover a range of sensitive topics while still being entertaining. This skill is one aspect of what made me excited about his new film “Jojo Rabbit.”
In this film, Waititi actually played the role of Hitler. As a Polynesian Jew, this was a surprising rebellion against type-casting that resulted in a more whimsy and controversial representation of the dictator. To extend this representation, the other Nazis in the film are comically and almost cartoonishly portrayed for the majority of the time.
The film starts innocent enough as a young boy excitedly prepares to navigate the challenges of boyhood in his hometown. However, these challenges of boyhood are particularly challenging as Jojo lives in Nazi Germany towards the end of World War 2. A sweet and innocent Jojo being raised by an eccentric but caring single mother is juxtaposed with the terrors of a country that is plagued with seemingly hopeless wartime, and nationalist ideals of institutional racism and discrimination.
From the perspective of Jojo, Hitler is not a tyrant but a hero and someone that he wants as a best friend. Nazis are more like superheroes. He is a devoted follower of the Nazi regime, excited to join the fight for his homeland. More than anything, Jojo wants to be a soldier. At first, anyways. This dream is challenged as Jojo is confronted with the reality of murder, war, and blind hatred. The film works hard to balance a coming-of-age atmosphere, sardonic humor, and serious historic and prevalent issues.
By utilizing the perspective of a child, which is inherently more innocent and trusting, Waititi was able to simplify the terror of Nazi Germany at a more microscopic level. Instead of generalizing the problems of the country, he instead focuses on the relationships between Jojo, his mother, and a Jewish girl named Elsa. Jojo, as a naive child, is a devout follower and believer of the hateful Nazi ideals. His mother, on the other hand, is against the war and regime to the point of hiding a Jewish girl in their home’s attic.
Now Jojo is face-to-face with what he considers to be an enemy of his home country. Yet, Jojo struggles with the fact that his sweet mother is a traitor and that the pretty girl upstairs is a monster. As Jojo attempts to reconcile his Nazi ideals with his new reality, the ridiculousness and cruelness of the Nazi regime is revealed in a way so simple that a child can understand it. But beyond the dissection of Nazi terrors, the film also explores the costs of a paranoid state and wartime with an underground anti-war movement, child soldiers, and civilian casualties.
A comedy about Hitler and Nazi Germany is certainly unconventional. The humor and content of the film are not for everyone, but personally I liked it. The genre for this film really does lie in the middle ground between comedy and drama. The film may make you cry at times. The film may make you laugh at times. But regardless of your reactions, the visually-striking elements of the film combined with the carefully crafted storyline and talented actor portrayals are what makes this an astonishing movie. This is the sort of film that you think about days, months, and maybe even years after you’ve seen it. In other words, “Jojo Rabbit” is a good film that you should definitely see.