Up for an incredible amount of six Oscar nominations this year, Jojo Rabbit is not a film you want to miss out on.
The dark comedy from writer and director Taika Waititi won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival and currently has an audience score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. Set in the final stretch of World War II, the satire follows a 10-year-old German boy, Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) whose world view is flipped on its nose when he discovers that his mother (Scarlette Johansson) has been hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Who else to guide Jojo through such an integral period of development but his idolized imaginary friend Adolf Hitler! This is unlike any other war movie out there.
Jojo’s journey is fun to watch, besides two or three gut-wrenching scenes I had to swallow back tears for. Throughout the film, Jojo develops from a brainwashed Nazi in Hitler Youth Camp to the beginning stages of maturity. It’s bubbly, quick on its feet and flamboyant—though that last one has Waititi himself to thank for in the role of Adolf Hitler (in hindsight, it makes sense that he just cast himself instead of attempting to explain the role to anyone else). It’s natural, as human beings, to poke fun at things we find ridiculous, isn’t it? So Waititi brilliantly plays Hitler as a preposterous, rambling idiot that should only have existed in a 10-year-old’s imagination in the first place.
It is normal to feel initially skeptical about a film that merges comedy and the horrors of Nazism in one story. Nothing about the Second World War is a laughing matter. But somehow, Waititi manages to succeed in conveying those terrifying historical events in a humourous way. Why choose comedy as a vehicle for that, you might wonder.
Just like the horror genre has long been stigmatized as one to not be taken seriously for conducting important discussions, comedy is often blamed for superficiality and vacuous messaging. With Jojo Rabbit, Waititi tries to change that. The director elaborates on this during an interview with USA TODAY: “The snobbery of filmmaking is this ludicrous idea that comedy isn’t art or that comedy can’t change the world or that comedy can’t change people—that you basically have to depress an audience in order for it to be meaningful.” The whimsical nature of the film isn’t taking the Holocaust lightly, it portrays the war through the eyes of a young boy growing up in a climate so many were unfortunate to endure. The comedy of the film, along with its commitment to telling such a story through the eyes of a young boy, only makes it more nuanced. Still, this may be disturbing to some, which is understandable. But at the very heart of it all, it is a pure, hopeful, and poignant story. What sets it apart from other films is that it is told in a format that society and even critics aren’t used to, but are bound to catch up with.
Jojo Rabbit expresses a powerful message that transcends history and proves relevant today: it’s easier to love than to hate. It’s essential to not only accept others as they are, but to embrace each moment with them as they exist. Ultimately, the film in its entirety is an embodiment of the quote displayed at the very end:
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
– Rainer Maria Rilke (mentioned in film)
It is not uncommon for war survivors to become completely engulfed by their losses, live the remainder of their lives in hatred toward the people that had caused their suffering. Or, in the case of Nazis that survived—living with the shame and guilt of their genocide. Instead, even in a post-war society, Waititi is telling us through Rilke and his film that it is so much easier to love, to move on. To be hopeful after terror.
As much as we’ve heard this message before, it has never been told in such a remarkable way. “No feeling is final.” Waititi’s transitions from comedy to serious drama are a seamless yet quick snap of a finger. They happen in rapid succession, never at the same time, but never too far apart. One moment I felt as though I could cry for hours in the theatre, the next I was laughing out loud and wiping away a tear that I would temporarily forget about. Waititi takes us through the transitions of life, showing us “beauty and terror” in real-time, and right when you are convinced of one feeling, Waititi forces you to feel another. What is so remarkable is that it feels completely natural. So why not practice this in real life?
Don’t let Jojo Rabbit get lost on the film queue you’ve written somewhere on your phone. My second viewing of it was shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed, nearly sold-out theatre. I encourage you to go to the cinema, feel each fleeting moment in a group, because you’ll never be there with the same people again. If you’ve missed Jojo Rabbit in theatres, watch it as soon as it becomes available to you. Let yourself benefit from the quickest transition from crying to laughing you’ve ever experienced. It’s not a film you want to miss.
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