With his new film, New Zealand’s darling director Taika Waititi (Thor Ragnarok, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) definitively proves that comedy is a powerful tool that can elucidate and satirise a complex issue like intolerance. Based on Christine Leunens’ book Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit is hilarious, poking fun mercilessly at Adolf Hitler and Fascism as a whole.
The film is set in a small town in Nazi Germany during the last days of World War II, where a 10 year protagonist Johannes “Jojo Rabbit” Betzler is living with his mother. He adored and even considers Adolf Hitler as his role model. So, the movie begins where Jojo decides to take part in a Nazi Youth Military Camp called Hitler Youth. The movie is reminiscent of the Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom (2012) with the lush greenery and the camera seemingly buried in the center of the screen. But here, Hitler is JoJo’s imaginary friend who is stupid and more childish than Jojo. There is only one scene where Hitler screams like the real Nazi Hitler, that too during a sudden turn of events.
It might be hard to digest that a film that depicts, Hitler as an imaginary goofball, Nazi Youth groups as the scout camps out of Moonrise Kingdom, and a 10-year-old fanatic who worships a condemned dictator, as funny. But this being a satire, the laughs are not meant to be slapstick or endearing. They seem rather involuntary; because Waititi’s writing manages to hit the bullseye by being so on point with its sardonic humour and pathos. This laugh is followed by an almost reflexive uneasiness when the true gravity of what has been spoken dawns on you. And you get plenty of such instances.
The star of the show is the young Roman, who delivers a masterful performance at such a tender age. The varying range of emotions of a young boy being ripped off of his innocence is so genuinely portrayed by Davis that you can’t help feel moved by it. You can really feel the conundrum Jojo is in; between his faithfulness for his country and just being a young boy with zero worries in life.
Scarlett Johansson as the complex Rosie gives us a breathtaking performance and is the heart of the film. Her screen presence is undeniable and she owns every frame that Taika has put her in. She’s the singular string of hope in her son’s life while being an absolute badass, in spite of being a ‘woman’ during World War II. Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, who is in charge of the Youth Camp Jojo is in, makes the best out of his stereotypical single-toned character and infuses colour to the otherwise monochromatic character.
Waititi, who calls himself a Polynesian Jew, apart from directing, also stars in the film as the aforementioned imaginary Hitler – a goofy, caricatured version of him that you’d get if you mixed three parts mean girl and one part puppy. Waititi liberates himself from such impositions in two key ways: he tells this story from the points of views of the perpetrators; he makes his movie so eccentric that at every turn we’re confronted with an avalanche of new meanings and images which is indeed a new way, to think about the most horrific crime in the history of mankind.
Overall: JoJo Rabbit is relevant in India at present because we get to see how in spite of repeated failed policies, a leader is still considered worthy where various factors such as raising blind followers, extreme nationalism becoming an epidemic, and placing the blame of any and all wrongdoings of the state on someone else i.e. in this case, Winston Churchill, being at play.