Review: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and how satire can be a force for change

On paper, “Jojo Rabbit” by director Taika Waititi sounds like a trainwreck waiting to happen: a comedy film focusing on young boy in the Nazi Party, who’s best friend is an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler, becomes distraught to find his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their house.

Against the odds, Waititi beautifully crafts a comedic narrative that weaves between well placed jokes and bits, with moments of genuine gut-wrenching reminders of the terrors that occurred.

In promotional posters and commercials, the film labeled itself a satire film which may confuse any viewer who ventures in thinking it to be dramatic war piece. While the film does have dramatic moments and scenes, it aims to be taken as a comedy overall.

The idea of satirizing the Nazi Party is nothing new to the Hollywood audiences. 

Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” featured the actor playing a dictator akin to Hitler, something that Waititi borrows from by portraying Hitler himself, and was released in 1941 during the midst of the war. Years later, in 1967, Jewish director Mel Brooks would go on to create “The Producers,” a film in which a flamboyant Hitler sings and dances in a Broadway play.

These films, including “Jojo Rabbit”, take the power away from those who declare themselves or are enamoured with nazis by making them laughingstocks. Nazism and the attrocities they committed cannot be laughed at, but a single nazi can be laughed at mercilessly until they are useless.

…echoing one of the main messages of the film. That when things seem impossibly dark and times are bleak, you have to do what you can to make the world just a bit better no matter the cost.

Carlos Holguin

Waititi, who is also Jewish, plays his Hitler with range. Switching from the over-the-top buffon to a feared figure at the drop of the hat mid scene, intentionally cutting off the audience’s laughter to remind them that these moments – the pain and horror are real. Seeing Jojo, played wonderfully by Roman Griffin Davis, go from a hilarious and nervous preteen boy to mindless nazi youth is heartbreaking. 

But it’s Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa, the young jewish girl hiding within Jojo’s home, and Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie, Jojo’s loving mother, that so expertly carry the film’s message. 

McKenzie demands to be seen in her portrayal of Elsa, showcasing the resilience needed to stay safe in a nation that wishes to see you destroyed. Johansson acts as a soothing balm, reminding the viewers that there were those who tried to help others in a troubling time. In their few scenes together, they proudly show the audience that hope and love, above all else, are what we need when things are at the bleakest.

There is a moment in the beginning of the film in which Jojo hangs up propaganda posters that rough cuts to him and his mother Rosie looking at dissenters and those who protected Jewish people hung in the town square. As Jojo turns to look away, his mother forces him to watch, to take in the horror and tragedy, before he asks her what they did to end up here.

Rosie replies solemnly that they did what they could, echoing one of the main messages of the film. That when things seem impossibly dark and times are bleak, you have to do what you can to make the world just a bit better no matter the cost.

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