Jojo Rabbit is a rip-roaring comedy we shouldn’t love, but do

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By Stephanie Kelly, First Year, Liberal Arts

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is divisive, childish and silly… but it is also heart-warming, hilarious, genuinely quite brilliant. Never would I have thought that a film featuring Sam Rockwell in a studded, pink fringed Nazi uniform would make me cry so much. Jojo Rabbit did just that.

Many of you may know Taiki Waititi from his sparkling adaptation of Thor: Ragnarok (2017), or 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but his new WW2 comedy - a juxtaposition if ever you saw one - which won the Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award, marks his ascent into becoming one of the most important figures in cinema today.

Waititi plays Jojo's imaginary friend, a reimagining of Adolf Hitler, alongside Roman Griffin-Davis and Scarlett Johansson | IMDb / Fox Searchlight

Don’t be fooled by the Guardian’s one-star review. A daughter of Auschwitz survivors said her parents would have ‘loved it’, and Gabriella Geisinger, a Jewish writer from ‘Digital Spy’, wrote that, despite her disgust at certain aspects of the film, in the end ‘part of my heart is with Jojo Rabbit’.

Jojo Rabbit does not, as many critics assure, belittle the plight millions of Jews suffered at the hands of Nazis: the impact of concentration camps within the film is only briefly mentioned and never actually seen. It touches on gargantuan issues of mass genocide, and ideological fanaticism, but, ultimately, those issues are not what the story is about.

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It is a comedy about a ten-year-old Nazi whose best friend is an imaginary Adolf Hitler (Waititi): who is ‘like, really into Swastikas!’ but chooses to let a rabbit escape rather than wring its neck, earning himself the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’; who accidentally blows himself up in retaliation to being called a coward; who is lonely and misinformed and who is a perfect antihero.

Thomasin McKenzie plays Elsa, Jojo's newfound Jewish friend | IMDb / Fox Searchlight

The crux of the film is when Jojo, played with equal amounts of bravado and sensitivity by Roman Griffin-Davis, deals with the realisation that there is a Jewish girl hiding in his dead sister’s bedroom wall. Thomasin McKenzie - rising kiwi actress who you may have seen in Leave No Trace (2018) and The King (2019), is superb as the hidden teenager, a kind of Anne Frank who plays along with Jojo’s ridiculous fear of Jewish people due to the fact they ‘have horns’, can ‘mind-read’, and are ‘controlled by the devil’.

The pair eventually strike up a friendship, hidden from Jojo’s empathetic mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who we realise is a member of the resistance. Johannsson was fantastic as a mother in Marriage Story (2019), and her warmth and humanity shine through her role in this movie also. She understands her child has been poisoned by society, but she also recognises the young person behind the awful front of Nazism and does her best to teach him right from wrong.

Jojo Rabbit touches on gargantuan issues of mass genocide, and ideological fanaticism, but, ultimately, those issues are not what the story is about

When presented with several dead, hanging bodies, Jojo immediately exclaims ‘Yuck!’, turns away, and the same mother who plays, dances and cycles with him, grabs his head and forces him to stare at the consequence of the Nazi Regime. Serious moments like these within this film are rare, as it is mostly incredibly comedic, but they ground in the true horrors of the time. Much like a chiaroscuro painting, the brilliant lightness in Waititi’s script only serves to highlight the terrible darkness of the time.

Waititi's feelings for the Nazi regime are clearer than the film's material may suggest | IMDb / Fox Searchlight

Supporting characters, including more incredibly camp Nazis - played by Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen - and Rebel Wilson - who essentially plays herself but with a strained German accent - drive most of the slapstick comedy of the piece, and a special mention must go out to Archie Yates who is just wonderful as ‘Yorkie’.

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A rip-roaring final act concludes Jojo Rabbit, and the last scene, set to a German rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, still makes me well up a full day after watching it. If you’re afraid this film might be offensive, you may be right.

The comedy worked for me but judging by the often-negative reviews, might not have worked for some. Jojo Rabbit, in his society’s eyes, shouldn’t love a Jewish girl, but he does. In our society, you probably shouldn’t love a comedy about a Nazi boy, but I do, with all my heart.

Featured: IMDb / Fox Searchlight


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