Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Jojo Rabbit

Lucie Jubin discusses the absurd and the ridiculous in the Hitler Youth comedy, Jojo Rabbit.

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Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin Mckenzie
Length: 1h 48m
Rating: 12A

Never have I seen such a refreshing comedy about Nazism. Actually, never had I seen a comedy about Nazism at all. Jojo Rabbit is the story of ten-year-old Jonas (Roman Griffin Davis), a little boy proudly enrolled in the Hitlerian Youth where he is taught how to become a brave soldier. Nazism isn’t only a political conviction for him, it is the meaning of his whole life. One day, he discovers a Jewish girl, Elsa, hidden in the house by his mum (Scarlett Johnson).

By questioning his Nazi principles, Jojo goes from being a kid asked to fight like an adult to an adult capable of adopting a kid’s innocent perception of the world. Roman Griffin Davis’ performance is quite mind-blowing as he manages to physically show this evolution in his character. In the last scene, one cannot help noticing how adult Jojo seems, as if he had grown all of a sudden without us realizing it. You will not be able to succumb Griffin Davis’ blond wavy hair, unaligned teeth and little caps. The contrast between his naivety, reinforced by a complete and utter faith in Hitler, and a surprising maturity for a kid of his age is simply irresistible. He delights us by constantly swinging between ‘I want to be tough as a lion’ and ‘I’m actually as scared and tender as a rabbit’.

Griffin Davis is accompanied by the exquisite Scarlett Johansson who excels in the role of the tender yet badass mother. Her rugged voice, her funky clothes, her illegal political activities and her general faith in life in spite of the circumstances bring a breath of fresh air to the film. ‘What is the first thing people do when that are free?’ Jojo asks her. ‘They dance!’ she answers laughing and moving her hips.

The film’s true originality lies in its tone: that of a dark comedy. Heavy topics such as killing, war, antisemitism or love are all treated very light-heartedly. This is due to the fact that they are seen through the eyes of a ten year-old. Even the grip that Nazism has over Jojo is treated very joyfully, thanks to a genius idea: Hitler is presented as Jojo’s imaginary best friend! He pops out of nowhere and starts speaking to Jojo, he has diner with him, ’keeps his bed warm’, jumps up and down in joy with Jojo while encouraging, reassuring and thinking situations though with him like a friend would. Hitler is a funny, friendly and protective figure to Jojo but not exactly compatible with Elsa…

The impression of lightness is reinforced all throughout the film by the music composed by Michael Giacchino, where joyful kids sing with by flutes.

However, I sometimes wished the movie would hold the absurd jokes for a while and become more serious from time to time. Being light-hearted and happy for too long prevents us from being really sensitive to a tragic event that hits Jojo towards the end. When Jojo finds Elisa for the first time, the encounter scene is transformed into a parody of horror movies, with excessively connoted music, hands that slowly come out of squeaky doors and knife blades that get dangerously close to Jojo’s face. This scene could have been beautiful. It was turned into ridicule.

Indeed this dark comedy often flirts with absurdity, which could be quite disturbing if you are used to realist movies. In the final war scene, bombs explode everywhere but there are no wounded or scared people to be seen. Kids enrolled in the army are given a grenade and sent to ‘go hug this American soldier over there’, or are given a rifle and the order to just ‘kill anything that doesn’t look like us’. Of course those orders are absurd, of course the war, presented like a game adults like to play and kids want to join, is absurd: the whole film denounces the politicization of children, yet alone their enrolment in violent and hate activities. War is presented as an absurdity. Once you accept that, then the movie becomes more enjoyable in spite of its lack of realism.

All in all, Jojo Rabbit is a refreshing, funny, light-hearted dark comedy starring irresistible characters that I would definitely recommend seeing at the student cinema on February 6th.

Editor's Note: This film was screened at City Screen York

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