"Jojo Rabbit" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Taika Waititi has been making movies since the early 2000's, releasing comedic films like "What We Do in the Shadows", but it wasn't until he was tasked with making the third Thor film for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that he became a household name. His Thor film, which many have hailed as the best Thor film in the series, became an instant hit by being one of the funniest and goofiest films of the MCU. So, it left fans wondering what film Waititi would attempt next, and I'm sure no one would have guessed a movie about a young Nazi growing up during World War II and having Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend. But that is exactly what he made next, and he did a perfect job of crafting this beautiful comedy that is not only entertaining, but shows how life is beautiful and precious for all people.
The film revolves around Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who is a 10-year-old Hitler-loving, Jew-hating, Nazi. He blindly follows everything the Nazis and Hitler says, and thinks the war is a great thing as Germany can invade every country and take over for good. It is not his fault for believing this however as the film shows multiple times that Jojo has been brainwashed by propaganda that Jews are horrible monsters. To help him understand and believe in what the Nazis are fighting for, Jojo crafts himself an imaginary friend out of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi), who is as absurd as the actual leader in history was.
However, Jojo's world is turned upside down when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is secretly hiding a little Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their walls. After finding and interacting with her, Jojo is now not sure of what he believes in, and doesn't know if the country he has been blindly following is right about the Jewish people. Now, Jojo must grow up and make decisions for himself, and what he thinks is right as a decent human being.
This movie, like most of Waititi's films, is wickedly funny and contains a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor. Consider some of the first scenes in the movie. Jojo goes to a "summer camp" of sorts for the weekend, where Nazi leaders are teaching the kids how to fight and use grenades, all in a satirical way, mind you. So, we get glimpses of kids throwing rocks on each other in comedic ways, a kid throwing an axe that ricochets off a tree and hits him in the knee, camp counselors teaching the kids about Jews and how they are horrible disgusting monsters with horns, etc. This basically sets the tone and the vibe for the rest of the movie. Waititi is able to take something so terrifying and horrible and turn it into a hilarious satire that people can enjoy.
Waititi definitely takes inspiration from numerous directors based on the way he shot and directed the film. Throughout, you can see the influences from Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and more from the way he is able to craft the story and the characters around Nazi Germany. At the same time, he still has this sort of flair and charm that is present that other directors couldn't match. Plus, his portrayal of Hitler is absolutely hilarious and naughty. He has described how this is basically his "F*** you" to the Nazi leader, and he wanted to do all he can to show how horrible this man was.
Around halfway through the film, the tone is switched into a more caring and thoughtful regard, when Jojo discovers Elsa living in the walls. This is when we start to see our titular protagonist grow up as a character, and make his own decisions. He is able to see how Nazi Germany is horrible, and what they are doing isn't right. Waititi furthers this by showing how Jojo's friends, especially plump little Yorki (Archie Yates), are blinded by what their country is spewing and publishing around the country.
This movie does end on a slightly depressing tone, but it shows the real human qualities present in those that you weren't sure you would see. Not to spoil any of the movie, but Sam Rockwell does give an amazing performance throughout this film, especially during his final scene in the movie. It also shows how people can never change, and what happens to those people who blindly follow horribly tyrants and rulers. In essence, this movie is really a comedy about change and human kindness towards one another, and how we can take those steps in accepting those who are different from us.
Waititi definitely delivered after "Thor: Ragnarok", and gave us a film that is both delightfully entertaining and honestly raw and human. Waititi is a very talented writer, director, actor, producer, and so much more, and I know this is just the beginning of a very long and successful career for him in the film industry.