Taika Waititi (director)
01 January 2020 (released)
02 January 2020
Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens and adapted for the screen by Taika Waititi (who also directs and stars in it) it tells the story of a ten year-old boy Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) in Germany at the latter stages of World War Two.
Jojo even at that tender age is a committed Nazi his mind blitzed by the propaganda of the time and his own internal thoughts in the form of a ridiculous comic Hitler played by Taika Waititi. His is an internal struggle to make sense of the comments from the likes of Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) as he addresses the boys and girls before the Hitler youth camp. He’s clearly of the view that the war is all but over but has to go through the motions. This Hitler also helps Jojo through the humiliation of not being able to wring a rabbit’s neck in front of a camp group, to prove that he can kill.
And then there is his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson in a frisky performance) also pretty much sure that the war is done but with an all too different take.
Overall though Jojo’s world is fairly straightforward with his Hitler keeping him on the perceived straight and narrow minded as he posts propaganda and collects metal for the war effort. That is until he discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hidden in the house by his mother away from the Nazis. Elsa is Jewish and this sets of all sorts of issues in Jojo’s mind as he questions others about what would happen if he were to discover a Jew. Slowly he learns more about Elsa who mocks and toys with him and his beliefs as he questions her about her faith.
With discovery in no-ones interest the two create a fragile reliance that then develops into a closer friendship. All the while Jojo’s mind is in turmoil with his imaginary friend Hitler dolling out hate and prejudice.
There’s a lot to like in JoJo Rabbit with the cast in very good form in particular the debut from Griffin Davis and Rockwell as a veteran seen-it-all-before commander in relaxed riotous form. Rebel Wilson as the demented Fraulein Rahm is less assuring though. It looks superb moving at quite a pace with gags pitched high, centre and low; as many off target as they are on.
Arguably the most difficult role is that of Waititi as Hitler. I haven’t read the book so can’t say how this character has been translated but he’s played here as a deranged fool, though somewhat comforting. It’s a tricky balance which he carries off. After all he is the construct of Jojo’s ten year-old imagination and one that has only ever been subjected to the positives of the regime, so what can you expect? The scales do fall away as the film progresses and the reality of war and the Nazis only hits him hard towards the end of the film.
Those hoping for the devastating satire and bad taste of The Producers will find very little here. This is a much more psychological story (albeit threaded through some absurd situations and humour) delving into the pliant mind of a child that’s been manipulated by horrendous images and rhetoric yet has not been totally closed to other ideas and influences.