Published on November 11th, 2019 | by Craig Silliphant0
Jojo Rabbit shows Taika Waititi in full command of his arsenal of excellent writing, satire and humour, clever filmmaking, and ideas like love over hate.
Works of art are often criticized when they feature symbols like the swastika or even Hitler’s little moustache. Taika Waititi’s new film, Jojo Rabbit, is no exception. The censoring naysayers don’t understand things like satire or nuance, but more so, they don’t realize that they themselves are giving those symbols power by trying to censor them.
Guess what? Those symbols were real. Those things happened. They should not be held up as something to worship, but neither should they be forgotten. The act of simply showing it, isn’t the same as putting it on a pedestal. Oddly enough, I write this on Remembrance Day, and if had I been one of those heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice of my life, you better damn well believe I wouldn’t want anyone to forget what that swastika stood for. And in a world where fascism and hate seem to be a legitimate point of view again, remembering the ugly past can’t be a bad thing.
Jojo Rabbit is (I’m guessing loosely) based on Christine Leunen’s book, Caging Skies. The film tells the story of 10-year-old Jojo, a member of the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany, who wants very badly to be a full-fledged Nazi. His subconscious/invisible friend is none other than Adolph himself, played by Waititi. Jojo’s world is turned upside down when he finds that his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in their crawlspace.
The first two acts of this movie are a stunning Trojan horse of emotion. In the first act, we meet all the characters and a tone of quirky comedy is set. It’s funny, energetic, and it pokes fun at Hitler and the inept Nazi’s in Jojo’s orbit. You settle in for some good ‘ole idiosyncratic comedy and satire. Then, in act two, something happens. It’s still funny, but somehow, you’ve let these characters and these situations past your emotional defenses and the movie pulls the rug out from all that. Things deepen and take on meaning beyond Waititi being a Springtime for Hitler goof.
Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johannson) wants him to grow up in a world of love and hope, but she recognizes the fanaticism in him. She secretly fights for the true soul of her country, but mostly because freeing Germany from Nazi reign will also free Jojo. Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, channeling a young Jena Malone) fears for her life, but also humours Jojo, because she knows he’s a boy, too young to understand. And Jojo himself has to learn to be mentally strong enough to fight against the propaganda he’s had no reason to doubt, so that he may see the face of humanity in everyone, not just the Aryan. Heck, even what seems on the surface like a couple of throwaway goofball Nazis in Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen’s characters, are hiding truth bombs and empathy below the surface.
Without giving anything away, I might say that the 3rd act, while still excellent, didn’t quite build on the soaring trajectory of the first two acts. There are twists that subverted where I thought the movie was going (which doesn’t happen very often) and while I welcomed the unpredictability, the twists also stopped certain payoffs and emotional outcomes from occurring. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about, whether you agree or with me or not. If you haven’t seen the movie, this probably makes no sense and sounds like the ravings of a lunatic, so let’s move on. Let me just say, all of this is very minor, and it may even be something I change my mind about upon rewatch.
Jojo Rabbit starts as a goofy comedy, but turns to stare into the abyss of hate and horror, armed with powerful torches — love and humour. The humour itself may even be deranged at times, fighting fire with fire, throwing a middle finger and a wicked, mischievous grin toward the fascist pigs. But it’s there to fight, not to placate and not to offend those who fought against the Nazis.
The movie lets us empathize with the boy, with even the Nazis themselves, so we can understand why people go down this path. You see, there’s no such thing as evil. Evil is the ultimate cop out to explain the greedy, or the fearful. Really, there are just people who make good or bad decisions based on love or fear.
And as for those monstrous symbols that some think should be banned outright, Jojo Rabbit drags them out into the light, kicking and screaming, vampire skin on fire, where we can see them, so we can realize that they only have power over us if we let them.