Film Review: Jojo Rabbit (5/5)

Ben Combe
16 December 2019

The Nazi aesthetic is, inherently, stupid. Plenty of ink has been spilled over the Nazi’s appropriations of fantastical, mythical and hyper-masculine imagery.

In new movie Jojo Rabbit, director Taika Waititi and his team defame history’s greatest monsters by inviting them out into the cold light of day. Liberal Judaism was invited to a special early screening of the movie.

The film tells the story of Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old boy in the Hitler Youth during the last days of the Second World War, who is so infatuated with the Nazi aesthetic that his imaginary best friend is literally Hitler (played without style by Waititi himself).

After being sent home following a devastating injury – caused by Jojo, but crucially inspired by the teachings of the Hitler Youth) – Jojo discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (played in a what could be a star-making turn by Thomasin McKenzie), a 17-year-old Jewish girl, in his house.

Jojo is confronted with his two greatest fears: the monstrous creature living in his walls, and the fact that the ideology that he worships might not be as wonderful as he had once thought.

The film lifts heavily from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, another story about a young boy and an older girl going up against an autocracy that may just be a bunch of kids play-acting. But whereas Anderson approaches everything with detachment, Waititi is hyper-connected to every one of his characters – save Hitler, who always finds himself on the sharp end of Waititi’s tongue.

Waititi’s films can be counted on for absurdity (Thor Ragnarok, What We Do In The Shadows), but he has always had a deep connection with childhood, dating back to his Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night, and these two ideas are brought together for this masterpiece.

Waititi, who is Jewish himself, is constantly making fun of Hitler and the higher-up Nazis like Stephen Merchant’s Gestapo officer Deertz. I said earlier that he is played without style, and that is because he is in no way a fun character. He never makes the joke; he always is the joke.

The rank and file of the German military, however, are treated with sympathy. The pinnacle of this is Sam Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, an overgrown child who believed all of the macho propaganda, but now as the Nazi Empire starts to collapse, is seeing it for the sham it really is. It’s a sensitive portrayal of a difficult character, and Rockwell pulls it off without a hitch.

It is tasteless? No. Like Blazing Saddles, Jojo Rabbit draws clear lines between who is an acceptable target for ridicule and who is not. Like all good satire, it punches up, and makes for a hilarious and deeply powerful piece of cinema.

I cried multiple times through laughter, and just as much through genuine sadness. For all that sadness and terror, I left Jojo Rabbit exactly how the film would have wanted me to: hating Nazis, and dancing to Bowie.

Rating – 5/5

[Jojo Rabbit is in British cinemas from Friday 3 January.]  

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