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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "JoJo Rabbit" takes a satirical view of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a child

Nov 02, 2019 01:03AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit - © 2019 Fox Searchlight.

JoJo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.

Starring Roman Griffin, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates.

Written and Directed by Taika Waititi.



There is a thing called “Godwin’s Law,” which, in simple terms means that any intractable debate will eventually diminish into calling out an opponent by comparing them to Adolph Hitler or the Nazis. Yes, Hitler is the perfect foil for anything you dislike and suggesting that your rival’s ideas will lead to “exactly what happened in Nazi Germany” is all too common. But Hitler has other uses in the abstract, like dark humor and satire, much like the “Springtime for Hitler” theatrical experience in the Broadway show “The Producers.” The same can be said for Nazis in general, as they can also be made to look like buffoons, as they were in “Hogan’s Heroes” TV series. Taika Waititi’s latest film, the satirical JoJo Rabbit also uses Hitler as a comic foil.

It’s the story of JoJo (Roman Griffin), a 10-year-old German boy who lives with his mother (Scarlett Johansson) in a quaint city during World War II. JoJo’s imaginary friend is none other than Adolph Hitler himself (Taika Waititi), a father figure and cheerleader who helps the boy overcome his small stature and fears. JoJo wants more than anything to serve the Nazi cause as a member of the local Hitler youth, led and trained by Captain “K” Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a bitter man unable to fight on the front due to being blind in one eye. When Jojo is injured by a grenade during a Hitler Youth training exercise, he is forced to take on less dangerous assignments by Captain K, pasting up propaganda posters and delivering consignment notices. Things change when he discovers that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) inside a crawlspace at their home. JoJo keeps his mother’s secret, for he knows she would be killed by the Gestapo if they found out. JoJo also decides to use Elsa’s knowledge to write a book about Jews to help the fatherland recognize their “cunning ways” and “evil magic powers.” As the war rages on, JoJo is forced to reconsider his brainwashed ideas on Jews, while forming a delicate relationship with the girl. As the Allies close in on their town, JoJo’s life takes a dark turn and he must reexamine his loyalties to Nazism and his best friend Hitler while making a tough choice about how to deal with Elsa.

There’s a lot to consider while viewing a movie in which Hitler evokes a lot of laughter, because if you know anything about his history, you might wonder if it’s something you should laugh about. I suppose that such absurdity is the most important component of satire, but it may be hard for some to make that connection, given the extreme nature of Hitler’s deeds. Even with these idiosyncrasies, JoJo Rabbit is extremely funny, with brilliant performances from the young Roman Griffin and Archie Yates (who plays JoJo’s “real” best friend), brilliantly supported by Johansson, Rockwell, and Rebel Wilson (who plays one of Captain K’s subordinates). The satire runs strong throughout the movie, but the fable never loses its footing in the reality of an absurd idea like a “master race.”

Waititi’s style, direction, and screenplay could be rightly compared to Wes Anderson, but unlike Anderson, Waititi takes the narrative a little deeper, whereas Anderson seems to be motivated by his own whimsy. Either way, Waititi’s style is very pleasing and fun, as it was in Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi’s performance as the imaginary Hitler is equally hysterical, portraying a petty, nervous, clingy version of the infamous dictator.

My only concern for JoJo Rabbit is how younger audiences who are less familiar with Hitler’s atrocities will take the satire or even recognize it as such. I fear that many will walk away from the movie with varied responses, including a consideration of Hitler as a silly character or worse, offended at the very notion of such a portrayal.     

Beneath the satire, the absurdity of war, and Nazism is a sweet film that looks at this troubling part of history through the eyes of an innocent boy who tries to find understanding among so much chaos. JoJo Rabbit might help us learn something from this point of view and perhaps help us avoid taking any similar paths in the future.

"JoJo Rabbit" Trailer