Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★½

Exploring the tenets of Nazism and the extreme fanaticism through the eyes of a troubled proselyte, Waititi’s satirical Jojo Rabbit laughs at the atrocities committed by the despicable perpetrators while celebrating the beauty and humanism in the many subsets of victims.

During the last part of WW2, young Jojo Bentzler desires more than anything to occupy a position in the honorable Hitlerjugend, but by some misguided advice from mentor-and-imaginary-friend Adolf, brought ridiculously to life by Waititi, the exceedingly patriotic Jojo leaves himself crippled, incapable of performing the honorable duties of his proud country.

Newcomer Roman G. Davis handles the travails of blind fanaticism, isolated youth, and dark humor with ability far beyond his years. Pairing him with the wonderful Johansson makes for scenes of delight, for scenes of despair, and for scenes of dead-seriousness. She is absolutely scene-stealing in every second she is one screen, and the hypnotic manner with which she reveals the many facets of her character and the trouble she has gone through is nothing short of amazing. Her character is hiding so many things for so many different people, but she contains them with such a lighthearted demeanor; she plays and teases and laughs and enjoys and dances – as opposed to her forced-into-adulthood son. Clearly, she has touched Jojo in ways only mothers can. She has shaped him just by being her, and in such a way that reminds one of Guido of Life is Beautiful, altering the horrible reality through imagination and heart. A small gesture of Waititi’s is having Johansson, childlike, keeping her balance on an elevated stone wall while serious Jojo walks below. In an ideal world, the roles should have been switched, right? Not here, not now.

This “anti-hate satire” is defiantly funny and definitely piss-taking, but it does not refrain from the harsher realities produced by Nazism in WW2. Hiding in their attic, Jojo finds the Jewish girl Elsa, played by the soon-to-be-huge Thomasin Mckenzie. The moments she has with Jojo are immensely fun, illuminating in the dark, and quite beautiful in that honest, childish way, but with Johansson, these moments turn heartbreaking, longing, and utterly humane.

Jojo Rabbit is not Son of Saul, nor is it trying to be; it is not Why We Fight of Band of Brothers, nor is it trying to be; it is not even Life is Beautiful, nor is it trying to be. Waititi’s film is a specific, personal film set during WW2 where the consequences are monumental – granted on a smaller scale, but not for the fragile, young boy and the strong, young woman whose innocent eyes stand witness to death.

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