Roman Griffin Davis Taika Waititi Thomasin McKenzie Scarlett Johansson Sam Rockwell
Rebel Wilson Archie Yates Stephen Merchant Alfie Allen
What an ingenious anti-war film! Taika Waititi has invested all of his creative energies into putting viewers into the mind of a child to take the journey from hope and hero worship on to despair and disillusionment, then full circle to hope, in a most unusual coming-of-age story set in Germany during the end of WWII.
It begins (significantly, with a Beatles song “I want to Hold Your Hand” in German) with Jojo (incredibly portrayed by Davis in his first film), a gung-ho young German attending a youth camp for Nazi training. He’s so into it, he has his [imaginary] friend Adolph Hitler (Waititi) by his side, bolstering him up when he’s discouraged and urging him on to a promising future as the bravest of Nazis. There are signs, however, that Jojo might be too tenderhearted, and that’s how he gets his nickname, Jojo Rabbit. (Jeers on all sides from his trainers and fellow recruits—except for one Captain “K” (Rockwell) who, uncharacteristically among Nazi soldiers, seems to have some empathy for him.)
Jojo’s kooky-on-the-outside mother (Johansson) has a way of supporting her son while at the same time glossing over his stated fears. In a way, she entertains him out of these concerns, but always with an underlying steadfastness that proves her worth. She’s a mysterious character who appears to have important things going on, but Jojo doesn’t really know where she is when she’s gone from home.
Which, because he is alone, is how he discovers an extra person in the house, “Elsa” (McKenzie) named, for purposes of subterfuge, after his dead sister, a young Jewish girl Jojo’s mother is hiding. Jojo’s and Elsa’s interactions provide a context for Jojo to spout out all that he has heard of Jews (having never met one) and a framework for Waititi to illustrate how stereotypes vanish when actual people meet actual people, the distance shrinking as they become friends.
Seldom have anti-war movies covered the scope of Jojo Rabbit. It portrays the internal experiences of a young Nazi in training ushering us on through his figuring out “Jews”, his encountering primal fears of home searches, his observing people he trusts of glossing over facts for humanitarian concerns, and his discovery of who important people in his life really are, including his mother and his ever loyal friend, Yoki (Yates). But beyond all of that, it has its comedic moments, e.g., reverse psychology is rephrased as “backwards mind power”, and the name of Jojo’s “book” about Jews he is writing is entitled, “Yoo-hoo, Jews”).
I thoroughly enjoyed Jojo Rabbit, and hope that viewers will grasp all the underlying messages in it about children and about war. It’s a satirical spoof, a heart-warming drama, a comedy, and horrifying picture of the costs of war.
Jojo Rabbit is not to be taken lightly, although it is a comedy, along with being a satirical spoof and heart-warming drama.