By A.D. Beal
Tackling something as horrific as World War II and the Holocaust is a tightrope many writers have struggled at in different formats. It can be even more difficult when doing so in a satirical way, due to the potentially insensitive or distasteful way it can turn out. In the new film Jojo Rabbit it goes wonderfully and may be director/writer Taika Waititi’s best work.
The film centers on a boy named Jojo, who is blindly patriotic to the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler. So much so, that his best friend is an imaginary, child-like version of Hitler. After an incident at a youth camp, Jojo discovers a secret his mother has been hiding from him: she has been keeping a young Jewish girl hidden in their house from the Gestapo. This revelation causes him to question his beliefs, biases and loyalties.
What makes the film’s lashing of Nazism and Hitler so incredible is how Waititi balances serious moments and humorous moments. His screenplay mocks the Nazi Party’s tactics in ways such as the burning of books as an activity at the youth camp, the introduction of Sam Rockwell’s captain character as similar to an action hero. Waititi uses Jojo as a stand-in for the general reception that youth in Germany had towards the Nazi party in the 1930s-1940s. However, the film also takes the indoctrination of youth seriously during moments such as seeing several young soldiers go to war only to come back bruised and injured. It does not hold back how inhumane the treatment was of anyone who went against the party. There’s a moment in the film where Rosie, Jojo’s mother, even makes him see the aftermath of a public hanging. Waititi himself doesn’t want the audience to forget that, at its core, this film is still about one of the worst crimes in human history.
The color palette compliments this tone. DOP Mihai Mălamiare Jr. uses a sort of colorful but still gloomy look. It feels like a battle between the light and the good side of. There is still the mocking of the characters representing these groups, with Waititi and Rockwell giving some great turns. It’s our leads, Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie, with some incredible chemistry, capturing childhood innocence and young adult growth (respectively) in an authentic way. The mix of up and coming actors and seasoned veterans really benefit the film.
Jojo Rabbit may be Waititi’s best film to date. A beautiful balance of different genres and tones, with every cast member giving 100%. A dramedy that is one of the best films of the year. Everyone involved should be proud of what they’ve made here.