A child’s fairy tale for adults — with Nazis.
In storybook Germany of the year 1945, a young boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) finally gets his chance to train along with his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) under the guidance of actual soldiers commanded by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) worries over her son’s blind nationalism and susceptibility to propaganda, but she has little choice but to trust his son during the day to the very people feeding his obsession. But one day after coming home early, Jojo discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding within the walls… and is very surprised to find her less monstrous than previously described. Understanding that both he and his mother could be seen as traitors if the girl is discovered, Jojo turns to his imaginary friend for guidance and wisdom in all things: Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
In what may be the most bizarre satire championing understanding over fearmongering — not to mention undertones of good ol’ fashioned genocide — director Taika Waititi adapted his screenplay from the 2004 novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens into a self-described “anti-hate satire.” From the perspective of a boy whose only known indoctrination into the Third Reich since birth, it’s a frightening prospect what he views as truth as it was taught to him, a dire warning appropriately presented as a twisted fable. While his visual and comedic style lends itself to works like What We Do in the Shadows and walks the edge of a film like Thor: Ragnarok, can Waititi lend the necessary weight to his satire of a child’s blind devotion to the Nazi cause?
It should go without saying that not everyone will be amused by this… and some may actively go out of their way to avoid it. Not since “Hogan’s Heroes” or early Mel Brooks films have Nazis been played up so silly until Iron Sky, and even those earlier entries took great care not to paint the worst of them as less than despicable. Fortunately, by taking on the mantle of der Führer himself and using satire to set up a series of gut punches, Waititi succeeds in the impossible: a positive journey toward understanding — and a stark reminder of what’s at stake if the world ever forgets — in the funniest yet most heart-wrenching way possible.
The benign camp scenes with Roman Griffin Davis and Archie Yates have all the trappings of a Boy Scout jamboree, with children disturbingly shown eager to play with grenades and grade-school boot camp shenanigans. Johansson’s Rosie as a single mother commands respect as she goes about her business, doing what is right and necessary even as she observes her child slipping away. Rebel Wilson is over-the-top as usual, and the subtext of Alfie (yes, that’s Theon) Allen’s character toward Sam Rockwell’s Klenzendorf isn’t obvious to the eyes of a child. Stephen Merchant’s Deertz is only on the screen a short time but is utterly frightening in mere glimpses. McKenzie’s Elsa steals her scenes, especially opposite Davis, as someone losing hope who also enjoys the little things, even if it’s just messing with a boy’s imagination.
While the ending comes abruptly and the denouement feels abbreviated, the film does its job in seeding hope where only ruin existed before; Waititi shows his own POV through Jojo’s eyes and how the right examples can be the greatest influence. Again, not for everyone, but for those willing to find humor in the horrific and seek silver linings within the darkest clouds, let Jojo share his rabbit with you.
Jojo Rabbit is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, language, and an untied shoelace.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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