“Jojo Rabbit” is the newest production from “Thor: Ragnarok” director, Taika Waititi. It is a movie which he has touted as a work of modern satire with a story that follows a young German boy during the waning days of WWII named, Jojo, who is an absolute Nazi fanatic. Jojo’s life seemingly revolves around the Third Reich and he even has an imaginary friend-version of Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi, with whom he frequently converses and seeks advice from. After Jojo nearly blows himself up with a grenade at Nazi Youth camp, he goes home to find his mother is harboring a Jewish girl named Elsa. The film explores the dynamic between Jojo and Elsa, and how his prejudices correspond to reality.
All of the elements for a deeply compelling film exist, but “Jojo Rabbit” is, unfortunately, a conceptually very intriguing premise that ends up being lesser than the sum of its parts. To use a baseball metaphor, this film is essentially a warning-track fly ball. One definitely needs to be talented and know how to swing a bat to hit a ball that far, but ultimately it is still an out. Merriam-Webster defines satire as “wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly”. Bodies of political satire, such as this, have a goal to be thought-provoking and challenge the way the masses perceive political institutions and social ideals. They succeed when audiences have a grand epiphany and see dynamics in a light they never considered before. But when the extent of insight the film presents is that Nazis are bad and they used fear and lies to get people on their side, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed.
The major issue that arises is that Nazis are already a group on the fringes of society that are always opposed for their twisted ideologies. It is neither a bold nor a unique take to criticize Nazis, and the film never strays away from that one focus. World War II ended in 1945… a cool 74 years ago. German Nazis are not really a problem in today’s world anyway, and the exposure of their faults seems unnecessary as there is nothing to affect. However, nothing exists in a vacuum and if anyone is familiar with Taika Waititi, they are probably aware of what his political views are, as he displays them for anyone to see. I can confidently make the claim that he is trying to present parallels between Nazi Germany and today’s political climate, but he comes up short here also. The film does not offer a legitimate challenge to the tactics or philosophies that inspire movements, such as German Nazism. Instead, it only chooses to belittle those movements, as if no serious person would ever consider them in their right minds, which is almost begging for it to happen again.
To its credit, the film does not bombard the audience with a blitzkrieg of MAGA jargon that would otherwise remove all subtlety and thought entirely from the viewing experience. But, because Waititi’s script is seemingly married to the idea of parodying German Nazis as people, he neglects to have many substantial discussions on their political ideologies, a subject which can transcend the events of the film. The ideas of fearmongering, scapegoating, and nationalism are barely examined beyond surface-level acknowledgments of their existence. Instead of learning why people might be compelled to be swayed by those tactics, they are presented as nothing more than exaggerations and caricatures in a 10-year old’s imagination. In fact, most of the adult characters in the film openly mock Jojo for believing Jews have horns and mind-control powers, despite it being the very propaganda they are pushing to him, as if their messages, which put them in power, are nothing more than fairytales for children. The film just does not offer enough philosophically to truly get anybody thinking any differently than they did when they walked into the theater.
Although I may be critical of the execution, there are many enjoyable qualities to the film as well. The acting is superb, especially from Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie, as Jojo and Elsa respectively. They are both tasked with providing the audience with innocent surrogates in which to relate to and can sympathize with. They are both victims of their circumstances: Elsa, a Jewish girl hiding for her life simply because of who she is; Jojo, an impressionable child who adopts a hateful ideology because everyone tells him it is the right way to be. You watch them grow from fearful adversaries to eventual friends and it is truly a pleasure to watch. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are also tremendous as a mother and a mentor to Jojo, and Waititi’s role as figment-Hitler is certainly interesting. While the other characters provide legitimate support to the young boy, he portrays the god-like image of what Jojo believes Hitler is like. He advises Jojo in a way that a child would believe an adult thinks. He also has a few mildly comedic moments, but it is mostly just the goofy antics of a child’s imagination.
“Jojo Rabbit” is a charming film that is by no means of poor quality. It has moments of sentiment, melancholy, and humor, but it, unfortunately, just misses its mark with its primary purpose. It is a film that seemingly would work better as a coming-of-age story rather than a political satire. While it lacks the profound messaging that I feel it needs to match the importance of the subject-matter, there is still a fine story about doing what you can to be better than you were yesterday buried underneath the façade of “funny Hitler” and German Rebel Wilson giving children guns. It seems though that the movie wants so desperately to be poignant with commentary, it didn’t realize other routes could have been even more effective.
I give “Jojo Rabbit” a 7.5 out of 10
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 Hour and 48 Minutes