matt qt’s review published on Letterboxd:
Taika Waititi effectively injects humor into the historical drama of Jojo Rabbit, while also presenting surprisingly subtle messages of conformity and discrimination. When I first heard the synopsis of Jojo Rabbit, I expected it to give us an obvious Holocaust message along the lines of “Hitler is bad” or “We are all created equal,” but what we actually got was a stunning showcase of substance over style from Taika Waititi. The film follows Jojo, a boy who is fascinated with the idea of being a nazi soldier, with an imaginary friend that happens to be Adolf Hitler. Waititi himself plays Hitler, bringing great life to the character. Waititi is obviously a very talented man, being skilled as a director is one thing, but also being able to give a great comedic performance with it is truly incredible. I also thought he gave a great comedic performance in What we do in the Shadows, which is the only other film I’ve seen from Waititi. Now that he’s working with Marvel, I don’t imagine that I will be in a huge rush to see his new films, but I will definitely be seeking out his older films.
Jojo is a kid who, like most kids, wants to be liked. And what do you do in 1940s Germany when you want to be liked? You join a group called the nazis that heavily promotes violence, but you have a chance of finding a close group of friends and to serve your country. You can always tell that Jojo is hesitant to the aspect of violence, but aside from that, he seems fully invested in the idea of becoming a nazi soldier. This is in no fault to Jojo for having poor character, he is just a product of where he lives and he reflects the ideas of those in charge of him instead of thinking on his own, like his mother. Jojo’s mom follows nearly opposite ideologies to those in charge of her: she has sympathy for the Jewish population, is against violence, and isn’t afraid to show some force against authority. But on the other side of the coin, Jojo was raised to mirror the ideas of the society around him, submitting to authority and wanting to destroy Jews.
Although Jojo intends to gain feelings of validation and companionship by being part of the nazi group, joining only makes him feel more inferior compared to others in the group. He realizes that he is not like the other boys in the group when he is asked to kill a rabbit in front of everyone. After not being able to, he attempts to show an act of rebellion by throwing an explosive into the woods, so the other kids won’t be able to use it in a demonstration by the leaders. The rebellious act quite literally ends up blowing up in his face, and this is symbolic to what would happen if you tried to rebel against the nazi regime, and authoritarian dictators in general. Under those regimes, you are boxed into one ideology and unable to freely think, causing Jojo’s initial need to feel validation. The pressures of conformity caused Jojo to get deeply invested into something he didn’t morally believe in.
Throughout the film, we see Jojo’s growth in progressively distancing himself from the nazi ideologies. After he finds the Jewish girl hiding in his house, he slowly starts to genuinely like her as a person and forget about her culture. Meeting Elsa was the impetus for Jojo to realize that he didn’t really support Adolf Hitler. This all culminates in a scene near the end with Jojo screaming a “F*** off Hitler” and kicking his imaginary friend out of the window.
Jojo Rabbit is a powerful story of self growth and morality. It really puts into perspective just how easy it was for the nazi regime to brainwash young minds into sharing their ideologies. It is hilarious, heartbreaking, and absurd. One of the best of 2019 for sure.
Number 42 on my Top 50 favorites