Jojo Rabbit: Sparks of love in a world of hate


FRIEND: Waititi portrays Jojo’s imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, a father figure to Jojo, whose own father went missing.

By Jacob Joseph Lefkowitz Brooks, Shalhevet High School

After sitting through an opening scene featuring at least 10 “Heil Hitler”’s, few would expect a film that evokes uncontrollable laughter and tears. Yet in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, that is just what an audience member will take part in.

One of the more bizarre premises in recent movie history, the film follows the titular Jojo, an insecure young German boy in the late stages of World War II who also happens to be a member of the Hitler youth. Jojo, played by first-timer Roman Griffin Davis, is accompanied by his imaginary friend…. Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi, who also wrote and produced the film.

The primary comedic device for most of the movie, Waititi’s Hitler is a complete parody who serves more as a representation of Jojo’s indoctrinated worldview, manifested in a sort of father figure. Save for one chilling scene toward the end of the movie inspired by a real Hitler speech, the fictional fuhrer is a very soft antagonist.

Jojo, who gains his “rabbit” nickname after he is unable to kill a rabbit at a Hitler youth boot camp, is at his heart a kind soul who faces pressure from those around him to conform to a hateful ideology.

The film has been marketed as mainly a satirical black comedy cracking jokes at the expense of the least defensible group in history, the Nazis, a la Charlie Chaplin’s The Dictator or Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

Anyone going into this film expecting a bevy of dark humor would not be dissapointed. The endless jokes poking fun at Nazis and Jewish stereotypes are particularly funny to a Jewish audience.

The hour-and-48-minute film flies by, as Waititi’s Nazi’s caricatures make comments unknowingly at their own comedic expense. But Waititi’s humor ultimately serves to support the film’s surprisingly bleak or heartbreaking scenes.

Where the film truly shines is the relationship between Jojo and Elsa, the Jewish girl being hidden in a room in the wall by Jojo’s mother. They begin as staunch adversaries but develop a sibling-like relationship as Elsa, played by Thomasin Mckenzie, tells Jojo of her experiences and dispels the anti-semitic propaganda Jojo has been fed.

Mckenzie, 19, who had her breakout role in 2018’s Leave No Trace, and Davis, age 11, starring in his first film, deliver authentic performances in spite of their ages and relative inexperience.

Jojo’s journey from hatred and ignorance of Elsa to loving and supporting her contains the film’s core message: that you can only hate someone who you don’t know.

The film does edge on being problematic in its incredibly dark subject matter enveloped in and at times overwritten by a comedic tone. The film is rated PG-13, which seems to reflect its lack of much vulgarity rather than its subject.

There is no question that laughing at history’s worst monsters is a cathartic experience. But portraying those same monsters as dimwitted goofballs is dangerous, especially as the horrors of the Holocaust fade into the past with each growing year.

This film was made in today’s political climate for a reason. Hate groups are on the rise, specifically white supremacist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a 7 percent increase in hate groups and a 50 percent increase in white supremacist groups last year.

Waititi’s message of defeating hateful stereotypes with genuine connection and love is certainly relevant in 2019. But many of these hate groups share ideology with the Nazis and it’s hard to be comfortable knowing that there are others watching this movie who does not understand that this ideology is still very much alive and growing.

This is not a knock on Waititi’s work. This film takes a glass-half-full approach, choosing to focus on combating hatred rather than depicting it. His style is incredibly unconventional, which may be jarring for some. But somehow, Waititi is able to make a black comedy featuring Adolf Hiller, one of the most explorative and creative films of the year.

This story was originally published on The Boiling Point on December 15, 2019.