Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire, as advertised extensively, is a different sort of coming-of-age film but as one would know from the sense of humour that Waititi’s career has been built upon, there’s also a whole lot to be admired about the risks that Waititi could already find himself facing when tackling a subject of this sort. There are a whole load of laughs to be had with watching Jojo Rabbit, like all the best of Taika Waititi’s past films but this is where he finds himself taking on a subject of yet another sort of scope. This is a film that’s clearly been made through the eyes of someone whose own people had been so visibly damaged in the past, but given the sort of risks that there’s another point where he clearly wants to broaden the reach of the film’s message by trying to reach out to a younger audience. To a certain extent, it works perfectly – because there’s not a single moment in Jojo Rabbit where I didn’t find myself laughing my heart out. For a movie about the Hitler Youth, it’s very funny, charming, and even sweet too, a nice crowdpleaser for what it’s worth.
Set in Nazi Germany, this film tells the story of a boy named Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), whose dedication to his country can only be summed up best by the fact that he speaks to an imaginary friend, who happens to be none other than Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Jojo prides himself as a member of the Hitler Youth, but his cowardly actions have also made him a laughingstock around his groupmates. Despite this, his own conscience speaks with the imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, characterized by his obvious idiocy, only further fuelling his blindly nationalistic beliefs. Yet all of that changes when he finds out that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin Mckenzie) in her care in their household. There’s a great deal of potential to be found in an idea much like this, and knowing the sort of filmmaker that Taika Waititi has shown himself to be, every bit of the film’s wackiness still comes perfectly intact to work together with his social commentary to find a perfect sense of relevance even in today’s world.
Being a film about the Hitler Youth aimed towards children given its PG-13 rating, Taika Waititi still knows which boundaries to stay within when telling a story of this sort – because all that one can ever expect from himself playing an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler can deliver what’s wanted, it’s very funny. In portraying a figure who has been widely recognized as a symbol of hate, Taika Waititi doesn’t ever try and make Hitler likeable (Waititi himself has said that he refused to do research before playing the role), but his funniest moments can only be best summed up by his own idiocy. Roman Griffin Davis, a newcomer playing the titular “Jojo Rabbit,” captures the youthful spirit so perfectly – completely unsure of the world around him but still believing in what he does, though always learning more than enough so that he can change his ways for the better. It’s a film all about reaching for a sense of humanity even in the worst of times, but also where one can go when searching for it among an environment shrouded with hatred.
With choosing to address the birth of radicalism in youth, Taika Waititi creates a poignant picture of hatred by having the satire bluntly parallel what’s going on in today’s climate. His approach isn’t particularly thought-provoking in that sense, but even with how on-the-nose it can be, there’s still something more thoughtful in seeing how his perspective flourishes on the screen. The movie makes it abundantly clear what Taika Waititi thinks of the damage that the Nazis have left upon society, and even continue to leave upon today’s world as well, especially when people so blindly buy into what it is that their belief system makes them think – without ever seeing the sort of damage it’d leave behind in a greater scope. Having everything coming clear to the perspective of a child like Jojo shows that there’s room for change when people aren’t ready to face the truth yet. It’s clear as day that the Nazis have been lying to Jojo for so long about what’s going to be better for Germany as a whole, but it parallels the nature of actual political parties that continue their ways of fear-mongering in the name of “protecting” their own cultural identity. Being a Polynesian Jew representing the character of Adolf Hitler, Taika Waititi mocks him with every beat and the Nazi characters in the movie get a similar treatment as well – for it’s what they deserve.
Yet there comes another point to where it seems the satire doesn’t always work as well as it should. The fact that Taika Waititi has made this film for children seems to hold him back a notch given the film’s subject matter, and although it’s respectable that he chooses where not to go in order to make sure that the humour is being delivered tastefully, there’s a point in which I was wondering if it could even be much darker. Given how on-the-nose most of the satire is, and even with the film’s wackier moments being definitive of what builds up Taika Waititi’s own sense of humour, there’s a certain extent to which I feel like he could have pushed for more – regardless of how blunt it could be. If anything, the bluntness of the film’s satire is what made most of it so effective, and something feels as if there’s another level where he could have went by making it dark enough to reflect the reality of what happens in a world driven by hatred too. On another note, with certain Nazi characters being one-note and even feeling more like caricatures, they’re never always believable as characters – Sam Rockwell’s own character is evident of this too.
Jojo Rabbit is funny, and seeing that someone like Taika Waititi could find a perfect means of waging war against those who are only bringing out the worst of others in a film for children already is a perfect way to add his own fist to the fight. This isn’t a perfect satire, but given the sort of time and place that our world could be growing towards, it can’t help but be felt that Jojo Rabbit will also have a greater resonance for today’s age. In addressing the nature of today’s political climate, especially regarding the authoritarian groupthink that fascists employ in order to build up fear against their own enemies, Taika Waititi has created a film so on the nose – but in a sense, it’s a perfect way in order to address that those people who can be defined as “heroes” may not exactly be the sort that they seem, no matter what you’re made to believe about them. A crowdpleaser it may be, but as a film all about trying to free yourself from hateful rhetoric, it’s undeniably very effective.
Watch the trailer right here.
Images via TIFF.
Directed by Taika Waititi
Screenplay by Taika Waititi, from the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
Produced by Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley
Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Running Time: 108 minutes