Jojo Rabbit, an outside the box tale of WWII

The film written (screenplay) and directed from Taika Waititi is a humorous and heart-warming experience set in the Nazi-Germany in the last few months of the war. With his classic trademark, Waititi manages to deeply touch people without loosing that irreverent comicality that everyone recognises him.

First SPOILER-FREE part of the review

Do you picture a ten years old kid having Hitler as his best (and imaginary) friend and what consequences could this have on the little kid? It would be quite dramatic, don’t you think? Jojo Rabbit, the film directed and written by Taika Waititi and based on the novel of Christine Leunens “Caging Skies“, has this imaginary relationship between Johannes “Jojo” Betzler and the fictitious version of the German führer himself as one of its focal points. Jojo is a lonely boy with just one real friend, Yorki, who is not always present in his life, for obvious reasons in such difficult times, so he pictures entire conversations and interactions with Hitler, which is a constant figure in his every day life. As just a young kid, Jojo is extremely influenced by the ideals spread by the German Reich and his leader, such as the superiority of the Aryan race and the racial hate towards the Jews: ideals that should never be part of a young kid that just to feel part of something embraces those ideas and proclaims himself a Nazi, without fully understanding the meaning of it.

Throughout the film we witness the war situation through Jojo’s eyes, the eyes of an innocent kid corrupted by nationalism and raised in a society that discriminates diversity. To his eyes, everything looks innocent and, in a way, funny: even burning books or the military training for kids destined to be used as the last line of defence of Germany (and basically condemned to die), look like funny activities, everything sweetened by the dark humour of Waititi, which is never trivial during the film. Waititi manages to relax the tension by doing this, but never letting the viewer forget about the horrors of the society that is being depicted in the movie.

When Jojo finds out that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in the attic, all his ideals and believes are conflicted: how can a young boy like Jojo be able to understand what is right or what is wrong? How can he distinguish the truth from the lies? Everything that he was told about Jewish people is that they were monsters, that they had mind-controlling powers and that they were sent by the devil himself. The answer to this is to experience the truth himself, and is extremely interesting to see Jojo’s personal battle and development process between one argument and the other with his adviser Hitler, who tries to deceive him with all the propaganda slogans that he absorbed during his growth.

The actors are just perfect for their roles, and Roman Griffin Davis offers a quite incredible performance that strikes the audience. The emotional rhythm of the film is tweaked to perfection, even during the last dramatic scenes of the film where Waititi never lets the tragic situation overwhelm the viewer, with the help of some comic situations that never feel out of place: overall, the film emotional charge is always high, and just because it is presented through the eyes of an innocent child it doesn’t mean that we can’t perceive in all its heaviness. The film is a perfect blend of dark humour and tragic moments, and the good direction helps us assimilate it amazingly.

Jojo Rabbit is for sure a different take on an historic period that has been presented to all of us several times during the years. Go watch it: you won’t regret it, and at the end you’ll be both amused and your heart will be fully warmed by this special movie.

8.5/10

Second part of the review: SPOILERS incoming!

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.

Rainer Maria Rilke

In this second part I am going to focus more specifically on some of the film topics, such as the relationship between Elsa and Jojo. When they first meet, Elsa is at the same time scared and full of hatred towards this little 10 years old Nazi boy and because of this ends up threatening him in an attempt to prevent Jojo from reporting her to the Gestapo. After that first curious and rough encounter for Jojo, the two of them start to spend time together, with Jojo attempting to gather more information about the Jews, and we can see how the racial discrimination is deeply rooted within Jojo, who was of course manipulated by Nazism propaganda. A crucial moment is when Elsa draws Jojo’s head when asked to show where Jewish people live: “That’s where we live”, she says, in a not too much veiled allusion to the fact that all the differences and the hate towards different so-called races is just inside the human mind: we are all the same, and Jojo slowly finds it out for himself.

When Elsa bursts in tears and runs to hide it from Jojo that’s the first time that he sees her as an actual person for the first time, and not as the monster he has always been told the Jews were. From there, their relationship develops quickly, even though there are some rough moments, such as the scene when Jojo finds out that his mother had been hanged by the Gestapo, after their discovery of her activities to help Jews hide from the Germans. Desperate for the loss of his mother, Jojo tries to kill Elsa in one of the most dramatic scenes of the film, well interpreted from both actors. Here lies the power of Waititi’s direction: he just slams in such tense moments in between apparently relaxed situations.

From that moment, Elsa and Jojo will deeply bond to each other, with the latter declaring his love for her, who shares it just as love for a little brother. The last selfish act of Jojo happens when he lies to Elsa for one last time, telling her that Germany won the war: this is totally comprehensible, though. He lost his mother, his friends, his ideals and he doesn’t want to be left alone, he doesn’t want to lose Elsa as well. His good heart prevails once again eventually, and, even though scared of where she could go, he finally reveals her to the joyful reality: she is free, once again.

The presence of Hitler, played by Waititi himself, works as a comic sidekick for all the time: every time he’s on screen the situation becomes hilarious. We can see how in the beginning of the film his presence in Jojo’s life is strong, as Jojo talks with him basically all the time. As the film goes on and the relationship with Elsa gets stronger, Adolf presence drastically declines, to symbolise the gradual separation of Jojo from his twisted ideals: imaginary Hitler will sometimes act as the offended friend which is being ignored by Jojo, and in multiple occasion will try to convince him to fall back into the Nazi habits. The internal fight of Jojo is well presented and it will end in pure Waititi style: Jojo kicks Hitler out of his window and he finally abandons his nationalistic side, thanks to his mother and Elsa, who opened his eyes on the reality of facts.

The scene where the Ally forces break into the city is majestic: the soundtrack, the drama of those moments where Jojo finds himself surrounded by smoke, explosion, dying people, screams and fear: everything is harmonic and it doesn’t lack of one of the typical moment of humour or Waititi, represented by Captain Klenzendorf and his battle attire. For the first time Jojo realises the horrors of the war, something that probably always felt as a game until he witnesses those with his own eyes. Captain Klezendorf himself will be the another example that even in Nazi Germans there could have been some good: he saves Jojo from execution by pointing him up as “a dirty Jew”, making the heroic and altruistic act of saving his life.

Jojo Rabbit is an emotionally intense story tangled up in the characteristic sense of humour of Taika Waititi that leaves a non-fading mark on the heart of the people who watch it, capable of treating them with some great scenes and the greatest lesson we could ever learn, especially in the wake of the latest events: we are all the same. Diversity is something we should praise and look as a chance to improve ourselves, not as a thing to fear and repel.

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