My first exposure to Taika Waititi’s latest comedy was during the trailers at the cinema whilst waiting to watch Knives Out, and I distinctly remember feeling… uncomfortable. There’s only so much comedy, perhaps, that one can derive from Nazi jokes in the Twenty-First Century. However, despite feeling initially unsettled by hearing a tiny child utter the phrase “it’s definitely not a good time to be a Nazi” upon hearing of the Allies’ victories, I did find myself intrigued; I hungered to see whether or not watching Waititi prancing around in a Hitler costume with Rebel Wilson really was as amusing as he seemed to make it out to be.
Jojo Rabbit is a film based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunen. It follows the tale of a ten-year-old boy, Johannes ‘JoJo’ Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a member of the Hitler Youth who has been injured in an unfortunate accident at a training camp, and then discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johannsen) is harbouring a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in his recently deceased sister’s bedroom. Upon learning this, JoJo must decide for himself whether the war is really as glorious as the Nazi party makes it out to be, all under the watchful eye of his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler himself (played by Taika Waititi).
Let’s get the negativity out of the way first. The atmosphere of the film was… odd, to say the least. Put bluntly, I found myself not entirely convinced by Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler. Of course, it goes without saying that the role is a challenging one to take on; capturing the essence of a fanatical dictator would be difficult for even the most esteemed of actors. But alongside this, Waititi added a new challenging element to his character by making the leader of the Third Reich an imagination viewed through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy. Other screenwriters have managed to effectively convey the tragedies and atrocities of the Second World War through the eyes of a child, such as Mark Herman with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008). However, I couldn’t help but feel as though Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler, although amusing at first, was often more reminiscent of an unruly child having a temper tantrum than what he truly was – an evil, manipulative fascist – and it began to feel a bit cheap after a while. Watching JoJo kick him out of a window did tickle me, however.
With that said, there were certainly elements of the film that I found enjoyable. I was enthralled by McKenzie’s performance as Elsa; I believe she truly succeeded in portraying the many complicated levels of emotion that a young Jewish girl in Nazi Germany would have had to contend with. Battling with fear for the future, struggling with a sense of identity and the loss of the right to live as a fellow human being, all while trying to understand the changes that come with becoming a woman; McKenzie captured all these emotions beautifully. I was on the edge of my seat during the scene in which the SS inspected the house and Elsa was forced to act as JoJo’s deceased sister, and could almost feel the despair resonating from her when she realised she had provided the wrong date of birth and was therefore at risk of being found out.
As well as this, I was incredibly moved by the depiction of the final battle between the Allied Forces and the Nazis towards the end of the war. The cinematography in this scene was pretty incredible; watching Jojo charge through the once peaceful streets of his little hometown, avoiding explosions and debris like a rabbit would shots from a gun, genuinely brought a tear to my eye. In this instance, the depiction of war through the eyes of a child was incredibly effective, as it shows the atrocities that can be committed by both sides of a conflict as opposed to just demonising an entire nation for the acts of a dangerous few.
All in all, I would say that Jojo Rabbit provides an enjoyable viewing experience. Does it deliver a ground-breaking new take on the events of the Second World War? Perhaps not. But it’s certainly a film that will make those with a taste for black comedy chuckle.