Taika Waititi is no stranger to comedy. From Thor: Ragnarok (2017) to Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), he is essentially a comedy genius. His latest, JoJo Rabbit (2019) has divided critics for its dark comedic approach to a Nazi satire. This is for obvious reasons a delicate subject matter, in no shape or form could someone proclaim that what the Nazis did was comical, yet Taika Waititi is not suggesting that.
The Nazi party took charge in 1933, and by 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two they were already murdering the Jewish population. JoJo Rabbit is set in the last few months of the war, before the US liberation in May 1945. The Nazi regime is well acquainted to cinema, as is a satire. Charlie Chaplin with The Great Dictator in 1940 is a prime example of that. It seems as if JoJo Rabbit is merely different for its elements of childhood and the innocence of those involved. Its plainly obvious that the Hitler youth was a evil section of the regime, yet they were children. Waititi uses this primary audience knowledge to reinstate the crucial fact that children to not belong in war.
Our leading boy is Roman Griffin Davies (JoJo) it is his first film and clearly not his last. I always find it impressive when children can understand a satire and a script, making the delivery of the lines poignant yet comical. There is brilliant acts of chemistry between the cast members with Roman at the centre of it.
JoJo Rabbit will do well this year. There are several reasons why, it has a large and notable cast with Scarlet Johansson (Rosie Betzler, JoJo’s mother) Rebel Wilson (Fräulein Rahm) Sam Rockwell (Captain Klenzendorf) Stephen Merchant (Captain Deertz) and of course, Taika Waititi himself as the imaginary Adolf Hitler. On top of this impressive list, let’s be honest; there will not be another Hitler satire this year. The topic matter is also daring and a gamble. People will flock to see it because they are fans of Waititi and because the reviews are either plain awful or praising it, there is no in between, its going to spark with interest.
What I admired about JoJo Rabbit was that it wasn’t afraid of showing the audience some of the worst periods in human existence. It wasn’t trying to hide the fact that children saw working in Hitler’s ‘child’ unit of war, an honour, nor was it suggesting that anything to do with the Nazi regime was admirable. From a histroical point of view, it’s important that we don’t forget what the Nazi’s did to millions of innocent people, we owe it to them to remember the pain that millions of the Jewish population suffered through in this brutal regime. JoJo Rabbit throws you into the centre of this with a crucial character; Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie). Elsa was a beautiful character, not only did McKenzie portray her in a memorable way, it also allowed the audience to feel that this film is not just a dark comedy, it also has a strong message. To give that message away, would almost be spoiling the film, and this film needs to be unspoilt and watched to understand the scale of it. Where this film is daringly funny, it is also heart wrenching and unpleasant.
Sam Rockwell has been an admired actor for a long time, he is running the local division of the Hitler Youth in JoJo Rabbit, and he does surprise you. Paired brilliantly with Alfie Allen (Finkel) and Rebel Wilson, who for once, actually brings a lot of comedy to a film. However, this review would not be complete without discussing the relationship between Elsa and JoJo.
Elsa is living in the upstairs walls in JoJo’s home, being helped by his mother (Johansson) when unknown to her, they find each other and truce to keep each other out of the authorities. This was a genuine joy to watch. I found myself scared and heart warmed at the same time, they are both struggling with battles around them and help each other without even knowing it. Likewise, Johansson is the beacon of this film, finding good in everything and acting purely selfless in the hope of others, in this case Elsa.
I will quickly mention Taika Waititi because although playing JoJo’s imaginary Hitler, he was exceptionally good. Penning the script and directing it is not an easy task, nor was getting Disney involved either and he juggled them all in a swift way, that bought a lot of laughs and horror to the screening, he was quite literally born to make films I think.
JoJo Rabbit was for me, the highlight of the London Film Festival. It is everything a good film should be. There is a constant battle between dark and light, where you as the audience will find yourself laughing, but swiftly turning to a point of no return. I want so badly to see this film do well, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but it does leave an important message in our minds; children do not belong in war.
JoJo Rabbit opens in the US next week and the rest of the world in January 2020.
Trailer, clips and cast information:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL4McUzXfFI (Trailer)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTHAJ7tl3Bg (Clip)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4zD8QoRFeE (Clip)
*images are property of the film*