Jojo Rabbit artfully balances the grim with comedy

Nick Alutto

By Nick Alutto
Managing Editor of A&E

Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a satire about a young boy named Jojo, played by Roman Griffin Davis, growing up in Nazi Germany, who is a part of the Hitler Youth Program and whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. The boy’s life becomes increasingly complicated when he finds out that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie, in their house.
Any movie trying to find jokes and humor in such an inherently dark and serious topic can find itself walking a very thin line. However, the plot of Jojo Rabbit manages to be both immensely funny at times through its sharp satire and criticism of Nazism, but also does not shy away from taking time to take a more serious look at some of the horrors of Germany during this time of fascism and mass genocide.
The film doesn’t take any time in easing the audience in, with the character of Hitler being on full display within the first minute of the movie. Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler may be a source of criticism for some, as in the film he is played very over-the-top in a mocking, nonsensical way for laughs. This portrayal, within the plot of the film, shows that Waititi is not really portraying Hitler, but instead a very young child’s imaginary version of Hitler, which explains his mannerisms and behavior in the film.
This does not mean the portrayal is at all positive, as even through this lens of being an imaginary friend Waititi still portrays a very manipulative character who capitalizes on the misplaced and deep-seated hate in Jojo’s mind in order to get him to do what he wants.
The movie shines through its funny look at dark circumstances. A supporting cast, including Rebel Wilson and Sam Rockwell, who both play Nazis interacting and training the youth are especially funny thoughout the film. The jokes are never at the expense of people killed by their regime, but rather at the absurdity of their beliefs.
It also shines through McKenzie, who plays Elsa with depth and believability, providing a look into an individual in a dangerous situation she has no power in escaping. Her interactions with Jojo, which mirror a sibling relationship, are especially enjoyable as they allow the viewer to see very funny interactions unfold.
The biggest issue I believe people would have after watching the movie is with the arc of Sam Rockwell’s character. He portrays is a captain in the Nazi party who is aware that the falling of Germany is imminent. Towards the end of the movie it seems that in a moment he is supposed to have a slight redemption arc, which is unearned due to his continued role as a Nazi. Perhaps this is an attempt by Waititi to show that people can still be terrible and do a few good things, but this idea is not fleshed out enough for the full intent to be clear.
Jojo Rabbit is a film about one of the worst eras in human history that manages to be surprisingly funny. Its tackling of fascism and racist ideology in such an entertaining way makes it a movie that people should watch.