JOJO RABBIT (5 out of 5) Written and Directed by Taika Waititi; Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, and Sam Rockwell; Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language; Running time 108 minutes; In limited release October 18, 2019.
Fifteen years ago, author Christine Leunens wrote Caging Skies, a novel about a young boy who becomes a member of the Hitler Youth and discovers a Jewish girl is being hidden in his own home. After being approached by Waititi to adapt her novel into a feature film, she made sure to research his work and after watching some of his films she realized he does have a knack for understanding children and portraying innocence in a grown-up world.
Making his debut, Roman Griffin Davis as Johannes (Jojo) is our lens into this world of WW2 Germany. A dedicated member of the Hitler Youth, he lives and breathes Nazi propaganda. So much so that his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler–not an accurate representation of Hitler but a version that has been taught to him. Hitler has four balls and legs that cannot be exploded. He has unicorn meat for dinner. He is an idol created in the vision of Jojo’s teachers who aim to make Hitler the example of perfection. His father is away at war, leaving Jojo and his mother (Johanssen) in Germany and after an incident that leaves him unable to rejoin the Hitler Youth, he spends more time at home where he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.
The film version of Leunen’s novel, renamed Jojo Rabbit, comes at a strange time in our history. World War II ended in 1945, but Nazi presence is still very prevalent today. Waititi takes on the challenge that the audience needs to see on the big screen–we need to laugh at Nazis. Waititi creates a live-action political cartoon, reminding us in dialogue dripping with satire that Nazis are silly monsters and we should not take them seriously.
Then the film takes a turn and you are reminded that Nazis are actual monsters. They are absolutely to be taken seriously. Their prime drive is hatred, something that is left out of the narrative when telling a story of Hitler Youth from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy. Jojo does not have the concept of hatred ingrained in him, he’s still just a child who doesn’t understand the world that adults have created beyond “Nazis good, Jews bad.” Davis’s performance will leave you in awe, he is a child forced to grow up in a matter of months, and before you know it you’re watching a tiny adult navigate the world around him.
Choosing a project like Jojo Rabbit after a wild success like Thor: Ragnarok is a solid move for Waititi. Those unfamiliar with his earlier films get to see his true potential as a director, writer, and actor who can make us laugh uncontrollably but also rip your heart out and make you feel things you weren’t expecting two scenes prior. You’re laughing at the concept of Aryan clones one moment and the next you’re reminded no one is safe and WW2 was a very dark time in our world’s history.
Plus, the movie ends with my most favorite song so I really can’t give it anything less than a 5/5.