“Jojo Rabbit” Movie Review

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     Whether or not a viewing of director Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” remains a palatable experience for you will ultimately depend on your ability to dismiss the atrocities of World War II Nazi Germany long enough to allow for a satirical take on one of the most disturbing points in world history.  After all, how can one watch a film like “Schindler’s List” for example and still have the ability to see the same material in a light that transforms gutwrenching drama into comedy?  This isn’t to say Waititi, who is Jewish, is in any way disrespectful to those who suffered at the hands of Hitler and his policies which led to the Holocaust and tens of thousands of lives lost.  

     But in the process of creating a story intended to show how impressionable young people are in believing the ideals spoon fed to them at a young age, Waititi creates an atmosphere where the Nazi’s are presented as dimwitted buffoons, rather than the cold and calculated war criminals we read about in history books.  If you’re willing to accept them as characters whose outward personalities and decision making ability would rival that of the antics of your average Leslie Neilson performance in classics like “The Naked Gun” or “ Airplane”, than you’ll likely have the experience the filmmakers intended.

     The initial sequence will immediately conjure thoughts of Wes Anderson’s work, particularly “Moonrise Kingdom”, as Waititi and his collaborators create a colorful environment for a Nazi scouting camp that sees young boys and girls participating in activities designed to further their dedication to the cause.  For boys, this means learning how to fight with a knife, throw grenades, and burn books.  For girls, it means realizing their ultimate purpose is to have as many blonde hair and blue eyed babies as possible.  One of the instructors, Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), instantly indicates she has contributed eighteen babies by herself, as the leader of the camp, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), spouts off the important meaning behind these hateful beliefs in an effort to ensure these kids will become future Nazis.  All of this is presented without even a hint of seriousness with everything said being delivered in a tone indicative of pure farce and nothing else.

     Early on during the Nazi camp we meet Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an 11 year old boy who longs to some day fight as a German soldier and currently holds the same twisted and nefarious beliefs as the Nazis do.  Whereas many kids grow up idolizing their favorite sports star or superhero, Jojo dreams of Adolf Hitler, doing so to the point where he sees him as an imaginary friend who counsels him on his day to day decision making within a construct based on the hateful rhetoric he has grown up constantly exposed to.  Waititi plays Jojo’s Adolf Hitler in much the same way as the other actors portray their Nazi characters with heavy doses of over the top silliness.  It’s his misguided pep talks that lead to Jojo having an accident involving a grenade, leaving him scarred and severely injured.

     Having survived the explosion and now returning home, Jojo’s mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), ensures he is given a job at the local Nazi office where both Captain Klenzendorf and Fraulein Rahm are now working due to being demoted as a result of the grenade incident.  But in Jojo’s world, everything is moving forward satisfactorily, as long as he feels he can continue to contribute to a cause he has been groomed to believe in.  That is until he discovers his mother is hiding a teenage Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in a secret storage area in their home, thus creating the classic double edged sword where he knows the consequences for such an act will not only mean terrible things for Elsa, but for his mother as well.

     There’s really no point in which Waititi veers away from his looney portrayals of Hitler and his various goons seen throughout the film, but after a mostly comedic first act leading to a rather genius bit of quid pro quo between Jojo and Elsa, the story hits a seismic shift in tone that if you have been paying attention was inevitable.  A search of Jojo’s home by a group of Hitler’s henchmen may be played for laughs initially with the constant need for each person to be greeted with an individual “Heil Hitler”, but you can feel the tension ratcheting up several notches as Jojo begins to feel genuine fear Elsa may be found.  And with the Allied Forces closing in and Germany on the brink of losing the war, several characters find themselves in the kind of harrowing situations normally reserved for adults, not middle school aged kids.

     But that’s really the point of all of this.  To show how impressionable young people are and how their upbringing can significantly impact their point of view on everything from race to war.  It’s as much a warning to parents as it is to our society in general.  And for those who don’t feel the need to consistently monitor what their children are consuming on social media, Waititi brings forth the stark reality of how easily an adolescent boy or girl can be programmed to believe glaring falsehoods like Jewish people sleep upside down or Russian people eat each other.  

     In priceless conversations between Jojo and his scene stealing buddy Yorki (Archie Yates), you begin to really understand how easily these idiotic ideas can be ingrained into a young person’s mind where any chance of a high moral based belief system is completely compromised.  These kids may be proceeding under the veil of childhood innocence, but think about the damage they will do as adults throughout their life time.  The parallels between the issues we deal with in the present day and those depicted in the story are more than obvious.  And that’s exactly what “Jojo Rabbit” intends to convey through the eyes of a child who doesn’t know any better and may not be saved until it’s too late.  GRADE: B+