A child’s eye view of war in Nazi Germany and the propaganda machine that vilified Jews, Jojo Rabbit starts as a hilarious farcical romp that mocks Nazis and their Hitler youth indoctrination program, and becomes a surprisingly poignant and touching comment on hate and the toxic effect of lies.
Written and directed by New Zealand wunderkind actor, producer, director and comedian Taika Waititi who previously directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), from a novel by New Zealand-Belgium author Christine Leunens’ Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit is very much a reflection of Waititi’s own wacky irreverent Kiwi humor.
A mixture of zany comedy and uplifting drama that makes no bones about portraying the Führer as a childish buffoon as played by Waititi himself. This Hitler is the imaginary companion of ten-year-old ardent Nazi follower Johannes (Jojo) Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis).
To help the audience understand the extent of Hitler’s popularity in Germany, there is a brilliant musical sequence early on that shows images of adoring crowds screaming and reaching for Hitler put to I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles. If you didn’t know who these people were, you’d think they were crazy Beatles fans.
Jojo, egged on by his imagined Hitler, thinks war is fun and exciting, so when he must prove his courage at the Hitler youth camp by killing a rabbit with his bare hands and fails miserably, he’s teased by the other kids who call him a scared rabbit.
After being injured in an accident during war games while trying to prove he can be as fearless as the other kids, he starts questioning the blind fanaticism of the country. It’s not until he discovers a Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) secretly living in his house, a “monster” hidden in the attic by his mother (Scarlett Johansson), that he starts to question his own loyalty and humanity.
Part of Jojo Rabbit’s huge appeal is Waititi’s hilarious performance as Hitler and how it contrasts dramatically with the innocent naive sweetness of Johannes who tries to be the perfect Nazi killer but just can’t seem to live up to the morally corrupt expectations of his Nazi superiors.
Sam Rockwell who won the best supporting actor Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), brilliantly portrays a hysterical disillusioned Nazi training officer who clearly struggles with the Nazi ideology.
Jojo Rabbit is a fun and moving satire that exposes the absurdity of war and the harmful consequences of blind faith in propaganda. In this there are a few similarities with the Roberto Benigni film Life is Beautiful (1997). Both are coming-of-age stories that have at their heart a young boy who is protected from the horrors of war by an adult who plays into the illusion of war as an exciting game.
Jojo Rabbit has just won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019, and it’s a good bet to do well at the Oscars. You won’t find a more crowd-pleasing and audacious film than this one.