Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019) 4 out of 4 stars.
The old phrase “those who forget the past are bound to repeat it” has been passed down for centuries. Whenever an individual believes this phrase has lost its luster, a new tragedy or a grandiose display of the worst of humanity rears its ugly head and reminds all of us why we must learn from our past and grow from it to ensure a better future. Taika Waititi responds to the thick layer of hate and despair that has coated the world with his anti-hate satire, Jojo Rabbit.
Amidst the growing influence of Adolf Hitler’s youth corps in Germany during the Second World War, a 10-year-old boy named Jojo, played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, finds himself conflicted by the hate-fueled rhetoric against the Jewish people his superiors, played by Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, have taught him. Regardless of the doubt Jojo may have against the cause, he’s willing to die, for he knows for a fact his devotion to his Führer will never waver. This loyalty is so potent that his imaginary friend is a childish incarnation of Adolf Hitler, played by Taika Waititi. Before long, Jojo’s blind fanaticism is met with the ultimate challenge when he discovers that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding a young Jewish girl, played by Thomasin McKenzie, behind the walls of his home.
Jojo Rabbit is an extremely powerful tale of love and human understanding for a time that is in desperate need of both. Taika Waititi’s direction is pitch perfect and holds steady through even the heaviest depictions of the Third Reich’s terror. The transitions from comedy to drama in Jojo Rabbit are impressive, but it’s the subtle chuckles Waititi leaves in relatively intense scenes between Johansson’s Rosie, Roman Griffin Davis’ Jojo and Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa that are the true highlights of the film. With what has felt like serviceable appearances in Marvel movies, it’s a true delight to see Scarlett Johansson work with some truly great material again. Johansson and Davis are the two halves of the film’s heart and soul. The more we see them interact together the more we realize how crucial of a figure Jojo’s mother is in his life.
Taika Waititi’s Hitler may be the funniest and most nuanced depiction of the Nazi leader since Charlie Chaplin’s Herr Hynkel in The Great Dictator. Waititi’s Hitler is never as jokey as he could be, which may disappoint some viewers, but he’s a genuine extension of Jojo’s psyche. If Jojo tries to solve a problem or rationalize a decision with the “flawless” teachings of the Nazi party, they are expertly lampooned when Waititi’s Hitler goose-steps onto the scene.
Jojo Rabbit is the most audacious satire in recent memory. Holding onto true delights while the world around you slowly sinks into hell is a braver message than one would think. To never look towards a brighter tomorrow because of horrific trauma is understandable but a limiting point of view. It takes true courage to continue living the best life imaginable when all seems lost. Jojo Rabbit holds this belief close to the chest and holds it fearlessly.