Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★

“It’s definitely not a good time to be a Nazi”

Hitler was never elected into office.

That’s not saying the Nazis used force to get him into power, rather he assumed the Chancellorship through the legal means of politically wheeling and dealing and making favorable arrangements with his rivals; that’s despite that when he did run for office, he never received more than 37% of the vote. In fact, even after the Reichstag fire and the massive campaigns of voter intimidation, the Nazis never achieved a majority of the seats nor votes in the Parliamentary elections against other parties, unable to crack 44% of the overall vote, yet they still ascended to power through the willingness of those in charge, seeing their success as a way to help themselves gain power. Thus the reign of fascism launched across Europe and the entire world plunged into destruction because the gatekeepers of power either lacked the foresight to stop this tragedy or simply didn’t care about anything outside of their self-interests. So, how do you comprehend the inconceivability of an entire country being hijacked by fascists without its consent and maintaining that power through intimidation, demands to blind fanaticism, and the tendency of humans to respect authority? By calling out the absurdity of it all as Taika Waititi does in Jojo Rabbit, a biting satire of the last days of Nazi Germany--following in the footsteps of the brilliant The Death of Stalin--that processes the illogic of Nazism as seen through a young boy named Jojo who's so caught up in the fanaticism, his imaginary friend is a sassy, motivational Hitler.

Like any good coming of age film of growing up in the fascist system, it begins with a trip to summer camp that plays out like Moonrise Kingdom for Hitler Youth. Here the camp counselors are either jaded commanders tired of this whole war venture or unthinking adherents to this mercilessly strict ideology. With the zeal for Hitler in Germany seemingly as strong as that for world-famous boy bands, the setting of the Third Reich is the perfect soil to plant the most visceral of punches at one of the evilest regimes in history and the systems of thinking and customs they subjugated people to. The mindless loyalty of the masses portrayed as fierce and unstoppable by German propaganda turns into the purely ridiculous under Waititi’s watch with “water warfare training” in swimming pools, misunderstandings about the canine units, and full of slapstick comedy with imaginary Hitler. No brainwashing gets more eviscerated, though, than their hateful beliefs on Jews. Unlike the other points, with this great tragedy Jojo Rabbit gives the account of the real consequences of these heinous lies. To young Jojo, indoctrinated with these beliefs, encountering a Jew invokes horror film tropes of a monster emerging from the woodwork, but for those in hiding, though they are persecuted, they are never shown as helpless victims but as gritty survivors struggling to remain hidden and stay alive. Being told “You’ve had more lifetimes than most”, they can only respond “I haven’t lived at all”, a testament to just how the stupidest of ideologies can inflict unimaginable pain on far too many people.

As the end of this movie nears and the situation for the homeland gets grimmer, the humor only gets darker, but as biting as the humor is, in equal magnitude is the softness of the images. With nearly every moment aesthetically framed, as vile as this land has become, it still feels like home for these people who at the end of the day are just looking to live in comfort and safety. With numerous scenes that have the characters off-center in wide, symmetric shots, no one seems natural in this fascist land, but when they do feel at home, these sets of deep shades of reds and greens buried in fabrics that look soft to the touch feel warm, livable, and full of life, directly setting up contrasts for their coldness after some characters are gone. Even among all the war, chaos, and incompetence, this movie has a heart, and it's directly centered in Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's mother, a single working parent that cares deeply for her son and wishes nothing more than for the war to end. She's saddened by her son's mind being kidnapped by this idolatry complex, and she frequently tries to bring out the kid in him that he's trying to grow out of. “You’re 10 Jojo, start acting like it”, he's been told, and in these scenes where mirrors abound, self-reflection calls out not just for Jojo but for this entire ugly time with its ugly laws and its ugly beliefs killing the beautiful. With the Nazis as ineffectual as they appear in this movie, it at times can feel like a disservice to those who suffered greatly under this despotic clout, but with the brilliant performances of this cast that range from the side-splittingly comedic to heartbreakingly intimate, the personal touch they imbue in this small world strengthen the universal truth that everyone is human and they all have value. With everything that happens in Jojo Rabbit, the greatest sin of all may be robbing an entire generation of their childhood, so the best act of rebelling against these authoritarians is refusing to grow up in the way they want, and the whole system can come crumbling down even with the smallest acts of rebellion, like going out into the streets and to break free and dance.

“F*ck off Hitler”