Making a mockery of Adolf
Oscar-nominated Hitler comedy-drama written and directed by Taika Waititi
JoJo Rabbit (15)
Running time 1hr 48min
A COMEDY set in Nazi Germany that focuses on a boy in the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is the Führer himself...
Just listening to the brief synopsis makes Jojo Rabbit sound bonkers, controversial and intriguing. It’s a film that only could’ve spawned from the head of its inquisitive and witty creator, writer and director Taika Waititi, the New Zealand filmmaker behind hilarious and delightful romps such as Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014).
The film begins with 10-year-old Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) as he prepares to embark on a Hitler Youth training camp weekend. He’s small and a little timid, so he gets over his nerves by conjuring up a magical partner in the form of his hero Hitler (Waititi). This first scene watching Hitler amping up Jojo to perform a rousing Nazi salute sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It could play off as tasteless and offensive, but Waititi manages to satirise the hateful ideology of the Nazis in such a way that it comes off as comedic, intelligent and necessary in our contemporary social climate.
Jojo and his friend Yorki (Archie Yates) try their hardest to be the best at camp as they take part in activities such as grenade throwing and learning about the ‘truth’ about the ‘monstrous Jews’. It’s a subversive and smart take on the ridiculousness of wild fanaticism. Framing it within the gullible nature of children just makes it all the more worrying and alarming.
However, Jojo’s patriotic and hateful views are challenged when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house. What follows is a heart-warming coming-of-age story, as Jojo learns just how ridiculous his indoctrination has been through the relationship he develops with Elsa.
The whole cast is a true delight. Griffin Davis and McKenzie are great at driving the story, providing surprisingly deft and heartful performances for such young actors. Johansson also does great, putting in a subtle yet fully realised performance, one for which she has been Oscar nominated. The supporting cast of bumbling Nazis handle the comedy greatly, with Stephen Merchant’s portrayal of a Gestapo agent being both hysterical and terrifying.
Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler is a true highlight, as he manages to parody the Nazi leader in just the way you’d expect a young Nazi Youth boy to see him; more like a superhero than a hateful psychopath. His great writing and directing must be commended. The way he allows the film to oscillate between its comedic highs and tragic, nihilistic lows is terrific. Although the pacing at times can be a little inconsistent between these contrasting events, when they do occur, they hit all the right notes.
I do feel comedy was a great way to deal with the horrific absurdity of the Nazi ideology, however at times, and particularly at the film’s violent climax, the laughs could’ve been toned down to allow the severity of the subject matter to really hit home. Despite this though, Jojo Rabbit succeeds in its aims, using the unspeakable horrors of a historical dictatorship to craft a timeless story about love and kindness. I promise that when David Bowie’s Heroes plays just before the credits roll, you won’t be able to stop yourself smiling.