Movie Review: ‘Jojo Rabbit’
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates
Plot: Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler has had his worldview shaped by growing up in Nazi Germany. When he learns that his mother has been sheltering a Jewish girl in the walls of their house he finds his simple perspective challenged.
Review: We’re going to start the review by saying that we think Jojo Rabbit is one of the most significant films of the year and by reading my review you may not get the full experience of watching the film for yourself, so best go and watch it now. Go on.
It’s no secret that we love Taika Waititi. He has been working as an indie film-maker for decades and producing critically acclaimed films beloved by audiences. More recently he has stunned mainstream audiences with the bombastic Thor: Ragnorak and now he’s turning up everywhere from Rick and Morty to The Mandalorian. He also introduced me to his grandparents at the local premiere of What We Do In the Shadows. When we learned that he was making a new film in which he plays a child’s imaginary friend – who is also Adolf Hitler – we were keen.
What Taika Waititi has done here is not only his most ambitious and complex project to date, but it’s his most remarkable achievement.
As the story begins, ten year old Jojo (Davis) has a bright, cheerful and simple view of the world. Aryan’s are the best, Jews are evil and Germany is destined for great success. As a member of the Hitler Youth he is ready to adopt the newly conquered world, encouraged by an imaginary Hitler (Waititi), who fills him with some much-needed courage. When an accident involving a grenade leaves him disfigured and handicapped, Jojo finds himself spending more time at home. It’s here that he discovers Elsa (McKenzie), a Jewish girl hiding in his house.
As he attempts to interrogate Elsa for information on the Jews, Jojo has his view of the world challenged, opening to eyes to his mother’s rebellious behaviour and the danger they all face. Likewise the viewer is disarmed by Waititi’s absurdist comedy style so when the darkness of Jojo’s world reveals itself we share in the horror experienced by the characters. This is further reflected in the bright, cheerful primary colours that slowly give way to pastels and finally greys and blacks as the story moves through.
If you’ve seen any interviews with Waititi you already know that he’s one of the most charming and charismatic film-makers of the modern age, and it’s clear that he knows how to work with actors. Davis and McKenzie are both amazing young performers who are going to receive plenty of attention with these roles. Jojo’s transition into being more empathetic child is slowly developed, so it never comes across as trite, and he makes mistakes in this process when overcome by his emotions.
There’s no actor in this movie who isn’t at the top of their game. Scarlett Johansson, as Jojo’s mother Rosie, is a complex and endearing parental role. She appears as both a loving mother who will do anything to protect her ‘cub’ and a political rebel who lies to Jojo in order to keep him and everyone close to her safe. Neither aspects of this character feel contradictory to each other and this is mostly down to Johansson’s ability. Stephen Merchant is, surprisingly the most terrifying part of the movie within a single scene as a Gestapo officer searching for refugees, and Sam Rockwell is on point as a disillusioned military Captain who’s true motivations become revealed late in the film.
In a time when hate culture is becoming more prominent in our society, pushing people further to the sides of the political spectrum, Jojo Rabbit serves to remind us of the ultimate consequences of these ideologies. Giving us a child’s perspective whose innocence is stripped away as his world falls apart, learning what his hatred of a people he doesn’t know truly means, is heartbreaking. This is one of the most important movies of 2019 and you should have already seen it. I told you to in the first paragraph. How dare you ignore me.
Rating: TEN out of TEN