When Taika Waititi’s latest directorial venture Jojo Rabbit nabbed 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting actress for Scarlett Johansson, many had wondered the credibility of a film which is practically courting the danger of being labeled as an insensitive Nazi comedy. Jojo Rabbit has a 10-year-old Nazi accompanied by an imaginary Adolf Hitler he considers his friend- there are many ways it could have gone wrong, but Waititi morphed it into a story that is both satirical and sincere at the same time.
Jojo Rabbit takes place in the middle of Nazi-dominated Germany where a 10-year-old Johannes “Jojo Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) has grown up idealizing Adolf Hilter. He calls him a Nazi fanatic who is “massively into swastikas” and has the sole dream of joining the Hitler Youth, as he is egged on by his imaginary friend- a goofy yet hotheaded version of Hitler played by Waititi. Jojo’s father had gone missing on the Italian front and this make-believe Führer is his attempt to fill in the gaping hole he left behind.
He eagerly joins other true believers and becomes a part of a training camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), who calls Germany “the most advanced civilization in the history of the world” and then orders everyone to “burn some books.” In his attempts to be accepted by others, Jojo allows himself to be brainwashed by white supremacist propaganda but when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is protecting a young Jewish girl in their house, he is forced to question his moral compass.
Jojo Rabbit, dealing with a heavy, sensitive subject using light-hearted satire, could have gone horribly wrong but Waititi’s brilliant work manages to be both deep and entertaining while imparting some crucial life lessons. Apart from Waititi’s execution, the majority of the credit goes to its phenomenal cast, which includes Scarlett Johansson as Rosie, Jojo’s mother, Sam Rockwell, as well as Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish girl hiding in Jojo’s house.
But perhaps the most nuanced performance is by Waititi himself as he stars in his film as the 10-year-old’s vision of Hitler. The best thing is that he never tries to be the real-life imitation of the ruthless Nazi leader- he instead opts to be seen as how a 10-year-old would perceive Adolf Hitler. He goofs around but carries the traits of the dictator he plays- he lies and deceives Jojo, just as the real version would, with promises of rewards, fame, and status, he goes into fits of rage when things don’t go his way.
Young Davis is equally phenomenal as the gullible Jojo who is bratty at times and yet an innocent child unaware of the depreciating levels the world had succumbed to. Scarlett Johanson as Jojo’s secretly anti-Nazi mother proves once again that she is an actor deserving of a long-overdue Oscar as she whispers with Elsa, sharing her dream of a better life, in the dead of night.
As we earlier mentioned, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit was a flight risk- it could have crashed and burned without any hopes of recovering. A 10-year-old and his ambition to climb the ranks in a Nazi-ridden regime served with comedy- ah! The perfect recipe to be a disaster. And yet, Waititi’s film is both tender and sharp- it is funny, poking fun at the fascists but it doesn’t forget the hell their corrupt beliefs are capable of bringing about as it feeds off the gullibility of the masses. Jojo Rabbit proves that it can be outrageously funny when it wants to be but swiftly change its tone to pierce the heart with a blunt truth.