What if a boy’s imaginary best friend was Hitler? That’s a question that pulls in your attention on its own in JOJO RABBIT, but as a concept for a film, it’s risky to say the least. Taika Waititi not only takes this concept head on, but also plays the character of Hitler himself in this bright and satirical adaptation of Christine Leunen’s CAGING SKIES. You may know him for THOR: RAGNAROK, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, and BOY, and so may be familiar with his comedic timing, and endearing wit. He’s done it again, and even managed to rope in six Oscar nominations and a win!
The title character of Jojo Rabbit, played by Roman Griffin Davis in his first performance, is a young Hitler fanatic during the last of World War 2. His best friend, an eccentric, and imaginary Hitler, but he is shaken and forever changed when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in the walls of their home.
Waititi delivers a campy and over the top performance of the Fuhrer, successfully separating our character’s idea of Hitler from the real figure, and setting the tone for the whole film. The audience quickly realizes that Jojo is not the ruthless Nazi he aspires to be, but is merely a ten year old boy “who wants to be part of a club,” as another character so eloquently says it later.
An oddball cast surrounds Jojo, which serves to confuse him more than anything. Sam Rockwell plays a drunken and disgraced half- blind Captain K, who ultimately becomes Jojo’s guidebook to third Reich, and watchful friend to the boy. His relationship with his assistant, Finkel (Alfie Allen), opens a literal dialogue in the film that is witty and charming, but also opens another that is completely left unsaid and completely understood. While Rebel Wilson is Fraulein Rahm, a gun- toting, Fuhrer- loving, mother of eighteen, who is more than happy to hand a grenade to one of the many ‘clones’ she cares for.
Scarlett Johansson beats steadily as the film’s heart. Her delicate performance as Jojo’s outgoing, dancing, resistance- serving, if not fashionable mother, Rosie, helps drive the plot of the film. Her time on-screen is served mainly as protecting her “cub”, and trying to instill within him the value of human life, and love. Davis’ and Johansson’s time together endears the audience to Jojo as we see the struggle this young boy has trying to sort out the indoctrination from his country, and the lessons from his mother.
As Jojo’s bond with his mother strengthens, and as Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) ‘teaches’ him all about where Jewish people live, his relationship with his imaginary friend becomes tense and strained.
Waititi’s film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. This could have easily been a serious and upsetting film, but Waititi’s writing, casting, and design make it easily digestible and endearing. If you have never seen a Taika Waititi film before, this is definitely not a bad place to start!