It’s hard, as an audience member, to imagine a comedy about one of the world’s most prominent horrors and atrocious leaders: the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler. However, actor and director Taika Waititi took a break from his Marvel roots to create what is arguably one of the greatest works of political satire of all time, Jojo Rabbit.
There are several different politically satirical films that teeter on the border of educating and entertaining and offensive and inappropriate, such as The Interview or The Death of Stalin, but Waititi’s work on Jojo Rabbit acts as an eye opening look into the Third Reich and a tonal rollercoaster.
Taking place in the middle of Nazi Germany, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old boy trying to be the best Nazi he can be to make his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, proud. Brainwashed by copious amounts of propaganda, Jojo is blindsided by his mother after discovering she is housing a young Jewish girl in their house.
Though the premise seems like a fantastic set up for some light-hearted satire with a heavy subject, Waititi brilliantly layers applicable life lessons with factual information from the time period that come together to create a shift in the film’s tone that no one is emotionally prepared for.
Most of the shift’s execution comes from the phenomenal cast. That includes Scarlett Johansson as Rosie, Jojo’s mom; Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, Jojo’s Nazi training leader; Archie Yates as Yorki, Jojo’s best friend; and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa. Each performance brings the perfect amount of nuance without any sign of a weak link to drag the film’s quality down.
Davis’ performance of the titular character is fresh and heartbreaking as audiences watch the struggle of a young boy just trying to do what he thinks is right. As McKenzie’s Elsa says “You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a 10-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”
The shift in tone comes when the film stops focusing on being silly and outright ridiculous and instead showcases the brutal horrors of the situation. The fact that Jojo was so caught up in the violent and vicious ways of the war and propaganda isn’t truly realized until Jojo begins to truly open his eyes. The audience goes on Jojo’s personal growth journey with him, and it reveals parallels of propaganda and brainwashing behavior in today’s society as well.
The shining star of the film is Waititi. Between his direction of the film and his incredible performance as a 10-year-old’s vision of Hitler, Waititi is nothing short of genius. He utilizes incredible camerawork, gut-punching tonal shifts and the perfect music from Michael Giacchino to make the film a phenomenal work of art. All directors and satirical writers should take notes from Waititi’s brilliant Jojo Rabbit.