Jojo Rabbit is a powerful satire, both hilarious and deeply emotional.
Watching the trailers for Jojo Rabbit, you can be sure of the hilarity that will ensue during the film. However, what isn’t apparent is the depth and poignancy of the story. This is not a satire that parodies history to such an extreme that leaves everything hilariously unrecognisable along the way, choosing to focus on a range of topics within its challenging historical setting (Nazi Germany) and tackling the absurdity of the ideas they give rise to. From Adolf Hitler to antisemitism to homosexuality, writer-director Taika Waititi packs a lot into Jojo Rabbit and, in the process, makes a quiet masterpiece that hasn’t received nearly enough acclaim.
On all fronts, Jojo Rabbit is an example of exceptional filmmaking. Waititi’s script and direction are superb, injecting enough of his usual meta-humour to help drive the narrative forward in a way that doesn’t let it become a parody of itself. The main source of comedy is a Hitler, played by Waititi himself, cast through the prism of naive Hitler Youth member Jojo’s (Roman Griffin Davis) childish imagination. As the protagonist’s imaginary friend, Hitler becomes defined by Jojo’s limited understanding of the world and war at hand. The film strives to make the workings and mandate of Hitler’s ideal world as ridiculous and over-the-top as Jojo’s belief in them, drawing a humorous epiphany that Hitler’s vision is something with as much grounding as a 10-year-old wanting a pet unicorn. It’s make-believe.
Waititi’s exaggerated performance isn’t the only cause for comedy, with the ensemble filled out with caricatured characters. Jojo’s best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) is particularly funny, indulging the fantastical elements of his brainwashed imagination and painting a crazy misunderstanding of what the Jewish community is. There is a constant self-awareness of the irrational evil that the Nazis were fighting for, driving the plot as well as keeping you laughing at its stupidity. Rebel Wilson is as funny as ever, and there’s a stand-out comedic paring of Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as Army officer Captain Klenzendorf and his lackey Finkel. Their relationship hints at a latent homosexuality that is realised in an overtly flamboyant scene near the end. Allen rarely has much focus placed on him, but his interactions with Rockwell and slight mannerisms make an entertaining impact. Every laugh is precisely crafted but the film executes its jokes so well because it transcends simply satirising the Third Reich, having a voice on the current political situation of a world run by man-babies.
Jojo Rabbit isn’t just a satire. The parallels between Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie and her son Jojo illustrate the dichotomy of war, contrasting a blind fidelity against an understanding of its tragedy. While Rockwell’s camp Captain discreetly represents a different identity, the film’s distinctive characters and their ethics are used as a way of demonstrating the negativity of oppressing the individual self. With essentially flawed characters, confused feelings and sentimental moments work to add complexity to the people within Jojo Rabbit‘s world; painstaking lengths are taken not to demonise all Germans (even those who had some support for Hitler’s cause). Waititi focuses his efforts on criticising war rather than individuals, expertly pulled off by shifting audience perceptions as the film goes on, leading to an unexpected tragedy. I never expected to feel so heartbroken during Jojo Rabbit. With surprising darkness and shifting loyalties, the director demonstrates a perceptive insight into the nuance of the situation and sheds light on the unconscious biases the audience may have against certain identities or people.
This is an amazing film because it tries to be more than just a film. It has an opinion that is stated through acutely honed comedy, navigating the complexity of its satire by having a story to ground it. At times it may seem outlandish and absurd, but everything that makes up its being is well thought-out and impactful. What’s more, Jojo Rabbit is enjoyable from start to finish and further asserts Waititi as one of the best filmmakers currently working.
Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate 12A.