Jojo Rabbit is a satirical film about a German boy enamored with the Hitler Youth and Nazism in the waning days of World War II. He dreams of being in Hitler's personal guard and even has a version of Hitler as his imaginary friend to help steer him in the "right" direction. The film stars Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant and Taika Waititi. The film is written and directed by Taika Waititi.
It's really hard to make Nazis funny, even when making fun of their ridiculous and dangerous ideologies. It's important to point out the despicableness of this group because they still exist and are still so dangerous as they use the internet to spread their incorrect, idiotic, and psychotic views. It's really hard to want to watch, as well meaning as it is, a film, which features many Nazi characters as well as the perversion of young minds by these disgusting people.
I feel Jojo Rabbit fails to counteract the flaws in the Nazi ideology as it still makes it look really fun to be a Nazi youth. Who wouldn't want to blow stuff up, make fun of people, shoot guns, and have a huge bonfire? Plus, you're part of a select group who looks after and treats each other like family. We follow Jojo around in this element, but after his accident at the training camp, the youth is nearly removed and there is little closure on the false ideology being taught to children. Jojo attempts to apply his kid logic to the adult situations happening around him, but it fails to counteract that strange programming from the beginning. Jojo does learn lessons, if very slowly and when presented with them overtly, but it doesn't feel like it's enough, like the film holds something back in its condemnation of the warping of children's minds. The camp aspect feels superfluous like many of the scenes in the film.
There's a lot of extra detail that feels more like riffing than adding to the narrative. There are hints of a gay affair between the captain of the garrison and his right hand man, but nothing is overt, just awkward. There are people who pop in with quips like Rebel Wilson's Fraulien Rahm who are out of place and slow the pace of the film. I would add Alfie Allen's Finkel to that class of extraneous characters. Unfortunately, Jojo's friend, whose entire part is basically played out in the trailer for the film, Yorki, is also a conundrum. Unlike, Jojo he's able bodied and conscripted into the war effort by the end of the film. Yet, he's not really a friend, not really a character, he's an exposition machine. All of this removes Jojo from the characters that make the most sense in the film. He's yanked from his moral reeducation by some chicanery. I so wish the narrative were tighter around these core characters of Jojo's life.
I think this is one of Sam Rockwell's best performances in years. He's the career soldier who doesn't believe the ideology, but relishes the fight. He's at least got the beating heart of a human, who knows he works for the wrong side and with his last act saves an innocent. Then there's Elsa, played by the incomparable Thomasin McKenzie, who as a Jew Jojo's mother has taken in, she shares the hard truths about the world with Jojo and attempts to find his humanity under the trappings of a fanatic. I wanted so much more with these two, but I wish the entire film could have had 100% more of Scarlett Johansson.
With a mix of vaudeville comedy and huge emotional depth, Johansson steals the show as Jojo's mother Rosie. The character is perfect. Her attempts to break through her son's zeal with humanity and light-hearted movement is sublime and worthy of a larger narrative. She's a beacon in the utterly dark world around Jojo and she gives hope that he can pull out of the brainwashing that's taken over his mind. Johansson has never been more charming or confident in a role. She commits so heavily that we can lose the actress in this role and see only the incredible inner beauty and strength of Rosie. What she represents as someone who resists darkness with an unflinching light and it is beautiful.
These times we live in are a precipice upon which we can be pushed further toward justice and truth or backwards into chaos and misinformation. We can lose ourselves in the big, broad ideas and forget the people in the middle of all of it with us. Jojo Rabbit's strength is in empathy, perseverance, and a willingness to dance when the walls are rubble around us. When it finds that core, the film sings. Despite its flaws, I recommend this film as a way to understand empathy. While those who need its message have already dismissed it, those who have seen it, should take heart and reach out with this message to try and sway some hearts and minds so we don't fall into that chasm, never to return again.