Review of 'Jojo Rabbit'

jojo_rabbit.jpg Ten year old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is living in Nazi Germany in the later part of World War 2. He lives alone with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and spends his time idolizing Nazism including talking to an imaginary, childish, version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). At a Hitler Youth Camp, Jojo refuses to kill a rabbit so is nicknamed “Jojo Rabbit”. Later he is involved in an accident involving a hand grenade which leaves him with facial scaring and a mild limp. One day he discovers his mother has been hiding a young Jewish woman Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) in a secret room behind the wall in his dead sister's room. Jojo is convinced not to turn Elsa in and eventually establishes a friendly relationship with her. World events soon intervene…

I hesitated for a long time in watching this as I was not sure how uncomfortable it might make me feel - Come on, look at the synopsis! A comedy featuring a young boy idolizing Hitler? How many non-PC elements can we count here? “Jojo Rabbit” is from New Zealand director Taika Waititi, well known for directing such films as “What we do in the shadows?” (and his involvement in the subsequent long running TV series) parodying a “fly on the wall” documentary of a house of vampires that features copious amounts of violence, sex, swearing and pitch black comedy. What would Waititi do with this story set in Nazi Germany? As it turns out I need not have been worried, this film is touching and very tastefully done in such a way that I think most audiences will accept. Jojo's imaginary Hitler, for example, is completely OTT and such a massive camp parody of all that was horrible about the war and Hitler himself. Even Jojo as a member of the Hitler youth is obviously more interested in the uniform and of belonging to such an “in” group but not at all interested in the serious downsides (such as being asked to kill a bunny…).

Roman Griffin Davis charmingly plays the innocent Jojo struggling to make sense of the bizarre reality that faces him. As the film goes on we see him maturing as a person and coming to realize what is truly important in life (yes it is another “coming of age” film). Scarlett Johansson is great as Jojo's mother who completely understands her son's infatuation with the Nazi's but at the same time seeking to protect those they are prosecuting. Her ultimate fate is one of the most shocking parts of the film (certainly to Jojo) though not entirely unexpected (to the rest of us).

The comedy here is not just with Jojo's imaginary friend but also in the bizarre people around him such as the disturbed head of the Hitler Youth group Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and Jojo's friend Yorki (Archie Yates) who is the same age but much more practical and matter-of-fact. The humour is never with the war or events themselves which are dealt with here with the utmost respect and no attempt at hiding the horror. We see Jojo's actions in support of Nazism for what they are: Childish infatuation and nothing more sinister.

A film that walks a dangerous line between comedy and the hell that was Germany in the Second World War. It is a line that is walked successfully with utmost compassion to the realities of war. Ultimately “Jojo Rabbit” leaves us with satisfaction that even in the absurdity and horror of war there is at least a slight possibility of hope. I still felt quite uncomfortable watching the film but this feeling soon left…stick with it.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2024-02-25

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Studio: Searchlight Pictures

Year: 2019

Length: 108 minutes

Genre: Comedy

Other reviewed films by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi:

Other reviewed films by Taika Waititi: