‘Jojo Rabbit’ is surprisingly hilarious, emotional satire of growing up in Nazi Germany 

Illustration of Jojo
Ann Liu/Staff

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

Coming off of the box office success of “Thor: Ragnarok,” director Taika Waititi had a lot to prove going into his next project. He could have easily fallen deep into the clutches of Marvel and Disney, producing only high-profile, cash-grabbing blockbusters that resonate with larger audiences. But instead, he created one of the most intimately empathetic and wonderfully youthful films of the past decade: “Jojo Rabbit.” 

Based off of the novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s film “Jojo Rabbit” follows the story of Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young boy in the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany. Guided by his own imaginary embodiment of Hitler (Waititi), Jojo discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house, leading to a personal journey of self-discovery for young Jojo, as he confronts the nationalist ideologies he has grown up with. Blending together the whimsical comedic themes embedded in Waititi’s writing with the freeing nature of Davis’ portrayal of Jojo, the film takes on relevant themes of self-identity and individual morals in a time and setting where this was almost impossible. 

With a subject as dark and sorrowful as World War II, Waititi’s film takes major risks, as it is guided mainly through dark humor and satire. Yet, somehow this works in its favor. The film’s self-awareness and innocence through the eyes of young Jojo makes Waititi’s portrayal of an imaginary, bumbling and goofy version of Hitler feel natural rather than uncomfortable to audiences. It doesn’t feel forced or arbitrary because of the tone Waititi establishes from the very beginning of the film. 

What is so striking about “Jojo Rabbit” is its inability to fit into a definite category. Although it has been marketed as a comedic take on these events, Waititi is able to balance the film’s humor with incredibly tear-inducing drama. When the film wants to be comedic, it pulls it off effortlessly. When it wants to be serious, it doesn’t feel out of place. 

Fans of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and Mark Herman’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” will fall in love with the youthful innocence and beauty that parades around the mind of young Jojo. This is easily one of the most sincerely beautiful depictions of childhood and friendship in cinema in the last couple of years — all thanks to the performance by Davis. 

Davis’ performance as Jojo is largely what makes this film so captivating and poignantly touching. He brings such a beautifully innocent, yet powerful, presence to the screen that is extremely impressive for his debut role. Davis strays away from a cookie-cutter interpretation of Jojo. Instead, he provides an emotional performance that makes Jojo’s attempt at understanding the world around him feel extremely personal and raw. 

The biggest problem facing this movie is the way it paces itself toward the end. This film is surprisingly gut-wrenching, yet emotional moments can sometimes lose their luster when cuts and tonal shifts are made too quickly. Nevertheless, the performances of Davis, Johansson and McKenzie make up for the abruptness of these moments, drawing the viewer in and making them reach for their tissues.   

“Jojo Rabbit” is easily a must-see of 2019. It is so rare to find a film that possesses the amount of heart that this one does. In a time as politically divided and hardhearted as today, it is refreshing and rewarding to witness a film that accurately portrays the power of love and acceptance in a place corrupted with hate and isolation. 

“Jojo Rabbit” is a reminder of what it means to display empathy in a society that aims to crush every ounce of feeling one may possess. It is a reminder that one does not have to fall into the traps of mechanically malicious hate. Instead, they can find courage by telling themselves to “be the rabbit.” 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected]/