Imagine a film about the horrors of war and which encompasses the associated themes of conflict like propaganda, blind faith, and loneliness, and you’ll have an idea of what this brilliant film tackles.
By turning into an almost-spoof, writer-director Taika Waititi manages to accentuate the terror of the period between 1933 and 1945. Although Jojo Rabbit will leave you feeling slightly less distressed than you’d be after viewing Schindler’s List, its message is no less poignant, wise, or relevant.
Waititi adapted the film from Caging Skies, the 2004 Christine Leunens novel and viewers are transported to somewhere in Europe, either Austria or Germany, as defeat seems inevitable for the Axis powers. Jojo, Roman Griffin, is a lonely little 10-year old with a huge crush on Adolf Hitler who earns his nickname when he refuses to kill a rabbit at a Nazi weekend camp.
An accident at this camp incapacitates little Jojo for anymore Hitler Youth activities but his working mother, played very tenderly by Scarlett Johansson, makes the camp officers take responsibility for her son’s mishap. So while she’s at work the child spends his days in tasks dreamed up for him by Nazis who for some reason or another have been relegated to the little town. Sam Rockwell turns in a brilliant performance as Captain Klenzendorf and Rebel Wilson’s knack for accents is on full display as Fräulein Rahm.
Don’t forget, if the bleakness of the setting gets to you at any point you can always hit Pause, grab a snack, distract yourself with hunting up the most competitive NRL Premiership odds or a quick social media break, and then get back into the action when you’re in a better frame of mind!
But things get complicated when Jojo Rabbit realises that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa, brought to life in a nuanced performance by Thomasin McKenzie. After a hilariously rocky start, their relationship deepens, and we watch the boy slowly realise what Hitler actually stands for. And this all unfolds in front of the Führer since Adolf is little Jojo’s imaginary best friend!
A Loving Message
Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler is marvellous and the script manages somehow to convey the other side of World War II, the almost-innocence that led many to allow such atrocities to be committed and even to perform them themselves.
At no point does the satiric take on this shameful part of our history attempt to lighten or excuse it, but rather delivers a more three-dimensional view of what happened and even offers hints as to stop it happening again.
I place it firmly in the camp of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in terms of subject matter and Mel Brooks’ The Producers in terms of elegance of script, performance, and message. It forces us to view the consequences of the hideous trap of a lust for power but ends up leaving viewers with a kind of hope that we have it in ourselves to never fall so far again.