Jojo (Roman Griffin Devis) is a ten year old German boy who can’t tie up his shoelaces and who dreams of becoming the best Nazi in the world. Which is not so strange, considering it’s 1945 and just like every child of his age, he loves playing war. What makes Jojo special is his best imaginary friend: none other than Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a bittersweet comedy about growing into adulthood in wartime. The story makes it possible to understand why and how so many people fundamentally believed in Nazism.
A childish dictator
After his father disappeared in the war and his sister died of disease, Jojo lives with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). He has joined the Hitler Youth and is a devoted servant of the nation. He spends his days with the best imaginary friend he could ever have: Adolf Hitler himself. But of course, he’s a dictator as only a child would imagine him. Jojo’s Hitler is a strong, powerful man, always ready to fight for his community and so give his young devotee the best advice. Still, he’s a great playmate: “The pavement is lava!” he screams laughing, jumping from one piece of furniture to another.
One day, while training with the Hitler Youth, he’s injured by a rocket. But Jojo Rabbit is not the story of a scared boy. It’s a story about a young Nazi, whose life is twisted when he discovers by chance that his mother hides a Jewish girl in a hole in the wall. Her name is Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and she was a friend of Jojo’s sister. At first, he wants to denounce her to the Gestapo, but she dissuades him. He accepts on the condition she will tell him all the “Jewish secrets”. This way he will write a book for his Hitler Youth leader Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). He believes this work will help him in becoming the best Nazi in the world. When Rosie is not home, Elsa amuses herself by inventing strange “Jewish powers”, which Jojo writes down diligently in his book.
A fresh storytelling of WW2
After What We Do In the Shadows (2014), Taika Waititi reinvents another genre by changing its rules from the inside out. As he had previously done with a vampire movie, he succeeds in finding an original way to narrate war. He recalls Benigni‘s La Vita È Bella, a movie that was capable of telling the story of the Holocaust and being somehow amusing at the same time. But while La Vita È Bella follows the story of a Jewish character in concentration camps, Waititi achieves the hard quest of enabling the audience to empathize with Nazis. One cannot but bond with Jojo, even though he wants to be the best Nazi in the world. His desire is lead by his will to become, in the end, the best person he can imagine. And the same wish pushes him to save Elsa, although as a Jew she should be his worst enemy.
Based on Christine Leunens‘ 2004 book Caging Skies, the movie manages to face a heavy topic with a lightness of touch. Colors are reminiscent of Wes Anderson‘s iconic cinematography, but instead of pastel shades, here they’re bright and warm, less fairy-tale. A touch of originality is provided by the soundtrack. German versions of famous pop songs (among which are the Beatles and David Bowie) contribute to lightening the story. Unlike what happens with most movies about WW2, the audience spends most of its time laughing. But it’s a smile hiding a deep reflection about what Nazism had been and how a dictator is able to indoctrinate a people.