Review: Jojo Rabbit Is Essentially a Perfect Film
5 out of 5 little rabbits.
**Spoilers for Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit lie ahead. Proceed with the caution of a frightened bunny. **
Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit is a brilliantly poignant story that takes a period of history many of us have learned about and flips it on its head. In the time of Nazi rule, Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) talks to his imaginary friend about the struggles of the time and wanting to be the best for Hitler’s personal guard. That imaginary friend? Adolf Hitler (played brilliantly by Taika Waititi in blue contacts and lovely parachute pants).
Starting when Jojo goes away to a camp for young boys to learn the ways of the Nazi soldiers, Jojo tries to fight against the idea that he’s a “scared rabbit” because he won’t kill a rabbit in front of the other boys by throwing a hand grenade. The grenade bounces off a tree and leaves Jojo scarred on his face, with a slight limp.
Less than perfect in the eyes of the Reich, Jojo’s dream of being part of Hitler’s personal guard is done, and he must go home to try to heal, but his mother, who is working daily, sends Jojo off to work with Captain K (Sam Rockwell). Jojo finds Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) living in his dead sister’s room, and after discovering that she’s Jewish, he begins to bargain with her (through the aide of his imaginary friend) to try to get information so he can write a book on Jewish people for the Nazis.
Slowly, Jojo begins to realize his initial ideas of Jewish people are not how he sees Elsa, and he begins to care for her, even though he cannot tell his mother that he knows Elsa lives in their home. But, as Jojo continues to work with Captain K, he sees his mother leaving messages around town and learns that she’s trying to fight against the man he so desperately wants to emulate.
Bringing on the fear that lived in both the children of this time and those who wanted to rebel against the ideas of the Third Reich, Jojo Rabbit does a great job of showing how the children were forced into ideas that were not their own, and the fear of bringing down the Gestapo on their families kept many silent and hidden within their homes.
What makes Jojo Rabbit so heart-wrenching is the almost lighthearted nature at the start—Hitler calling Jojo modern names at one point and Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) and Finkel (Alfie Allen) serving as almost Valley girl-esque members of the Nazi party—that then turns into a punch to the gut. You realize, through laughing at these comedic performances (Sam Rockwell draws his new uniform for when the Americans come, and it includes pink feathers) that no matter what joy you are finding, it can be ripped away from you.
A lot of the lighthearted moments come from Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and her desire to bring back the little boy she knows still exists in Jojo. Rosie tries to bring back her son, who would run around and play games, back from his obsession with the Führer. To her, he’s ten years old, and he shouldn’t be worried about politics in the way that he is, so she often plays games with him, dancing in their living room and trying to let him have the childhood that has been ripped from so many.
But, despite Rosie’s best tactics, Jojo is still obsessed with trying to figure out how to spot Jewish people, something that the adults in the movie mock because, at this point in history, the concern was more about winning the war. Still, it wasn’t safe for anyone, especially someone of Jewish heritage, and Jojo realizes the significance of what is happening when the Gestapo comes to his home asking about his mother.
It’s through the little acts of kindness from the other adults in town, that we see that, at the end of the day, these are just kids. Johansson, Rockwell, Allen, and Wilson all bring performances that stay with you long after you’ve left the theater, and Waititi’s Hitler is both a humorous look at the monster and showcases the fear that the Führer inflicted upon people, his imaginary appearances representing the hold that actual Adolf Hitler had on these children, infiltrating their brains and filling them with lies.
The stars of the film, though, are definitely the children. Both Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie bring brilliant performances to the movie, and Yorki actor Archie Yates is one of the best parts of the entire thing. He just shows up and comments that he keeps surviving and wants to go home and cuddle his mom. I love him.
Not only that, but to see Rosie dedicate her life to trying to stop the Reich, to watch as she tried to teach her son to be better than what Hitler was feeding into the minds of these kids, I couldn’t help but cry over the idea of fighting against the monsters in power for the greater good.
I love Jojo Rabbit with my whole heart, and it is the perfect blend of Waititi’s wit and ability to pack a comedy with an emotional punch—a definite must-see.
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