An incredibly skillful movie that takes hard premise and filters it through the point of view of a boy trying to figure out who he is, Jojo Rabbit is a rollercoaster of emotions.
The story is set in Nazi Germany during the later days of World War II. It follows a young boy who wants nothing more than to be a great Nazi and Adolf Hitler’s right hand man. He wants this so badly that he has invented an imaginary friend out of Adolf Hitler. He talks often to this cartoonish version of the fuhrer who is played by the director Taika Waititi. He has a quirky, offbeat, and immensely enjoyable send of humor that permeates his depiction of Hitler as well as the entire film.
The whole film is told through Jojo’s perspective which means that the world is a little skewed and a little exaggerated. This is where the offbeat humor comes into play. Jojo goes running through the woods, and it feels like the most epic and amazing adventure ever. Then the film suddenly snaps out of his perspective to show what is really happening and the moment couldn’t be funnier. The depictions of the Nazi’s is seen through the eyes of a young boy who sees them as the ideal, but as hard as he tries to maintain that illusion the truth keeps breaking through. When the veneer of the Nazi’s finally fully wears off the horror of what the nazi party was is exposed in a horrific sequence that wrenches the guts and tears out the audience’s hearts. This approach also has the ability to subtly satirize everything it shows. Because it is exaggerated, it makes all the nazi imagery look extremely silly. All the uniforms and Heil Hitler’s become hilarious symbols of an absurd world view. Even though the story is about a kid who glorifies the Nazi’s the film is able to never glorify Nazis itself. It takes everything the that made the Nazi’s appear powerful and makes it silly. It’s a new and fascinating way of looking at a group and time period that has been shown the same way for a long time.
The film has a lot of wonderful performances. Sam Rockwell plays the part of a Nazi Captain who sees the writing on the wall as far as the war is concerned as a man whose layers are slowly peeled back to reveal hidden complexities and complications. Scarlett Johansson is pitch perfect as Jojo’s mother. Watching her it’s clear to see where Jojo got his vivid imagination. She fills every moment with warmth and humor, but is also able to convey the depths of her struggle and sadness. Jojo himself is played by an immensely talented young man who never feels like a child actor. He springs off the screen as if he was a old master at his craft. There isn’t a squeaky wheel or weak player in the bunch.
Like all of Taika Waititi’s work, the film has layers of messages and meanings. What at first looks like a simple spoof is soon revealed to be a story of a boy trying to define himself against a father who isn’t present. Jojo’s father has been fighting in the war and hasn’t been in contact with his family for a long time. Jojo tries to find some sense of the person he’s supposed to become and the Nazi party offers some answers. It looks at how easy it is to fall into a toxic ideology. Jojo’s journey becomes deeper and richer as the film goes on and he grows and changes as the world around him grows and changes. There is so much in every scene here. There is humor. There is horror. There is honesty and truth.
For those looking for some kind of black comedy or hard hitting scathing satire, they won’t find what they are looking for. It is satirical, but it is firing on a different wavelength. Because of its perspective and its approach to the material it won’t be the black comedy most people are expecting. For those looking for a heart warming tale of triumph against adversity they will be disappointed. This movie has elements of both. There are heart warming moments to be sure. There are moments that play on the heart strings and make the audience leap with warm hearted joy, but it’s not a hallmark movie. It’s not trying to reaffirm those feel good elements that give people the warm fuzzies. It is a complicated take on a complicated time.
Personally I loved it. It is my cup of tea. It really worked wonders for me throughout the film. I will definitely see it again, and I would recommend it highly to anybody. It might yield different results and gain different traction for different people depending on taste, but I loved it. A+