Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★½

Mad props to Taika Waititi for spending his Disney dollars on such a quirky passion project, and the late and lamented Fox Searchlight for funding it. In the short time we have left before the house of mouse devours all cinema and reduces everything to insipid formula with cross-promotional tie ins available at fast food locations in your area we must cherish such moments. As everyone knows Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young boy in Nazi Germany who has Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend, as hilariously portrayed by the director. However this impression gained from the marketing is perhaps about 20% of the film, with "Hitler" only popping up occasionally after the movie gets to what it is really about. Jojo Rabbit's main message is that love is stronger than hate and that brainwashing by the state is bad, yet so many seem to have taken umbrage at the way this message is imparted.

Of course the question “Is it okay to make jokes about the Nazis?” was answered definitively back in 1967 by Mel Brooks' with The Producers, but apparently some people are still hung up about this, (or perhaps a lot of non-Jewish people are taking offence because Taika Watiti isn't sufficiently Jewish). Incidentally Mel Brooks loves this movie, so it's only the usual tedious bores who completely lack a sense of both humour and perspective who are reacting to the "controversy" they themselves invented. A good rule for life should be when anyone ever claims to be offended on behalf of a group they do not belong to they should be roundly ignored and probably abused for wasting humanity's time. Yes it's fine to laugh at Hitler and the stupid beliefs of the Third Reich, not as an alternative to understanding them, but in parallel with that understanding. Laughter is the way to de-fang evil, to reduce its power, whereas hushed reverence before tyranny is actually the desired outcome. Hate feeds on hate, and fucking hell I can't believe I actually have to explain all this to idiots.

Jojo Rabbit shows an important aspect of all totalitarian societies in that what is insane or stupid is more a matter of the general consensus than any objective standard. So the film's exaggerations for comedic and subversive effect work because the real things the Nazi Party said about the Jews is like the blackest form of caricature, so it's only just to pillory them by such methods in turn. I'm talking around the plot here because I think the film should be experienced knowing as little about it as possible, but here are a few general comments. I thought the acting was great from the young unknowns to hilarious supporting roles from Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant with a special mention for Scarlett Johansson who was surprisingly deep. As he proved in What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Waititi is a master at verbal and physical comedy as well as sharp satire. It's also very well shot for a comedy, and so while a lot of the Academy Award nominations are perhaps surprising given the subject matter and tone, they are not undeserved. Overall while not the deepest exploration of its themes, and despite shifting into far more conventional storytelling in the second half as the laughs are edged out by the drama, Jojo Rabbit gets people talking and thinking as well as laughing and that can't be a bad thing. This film was never intended to be the definitive exploration of the crimes of the Third Reich, so asking it to be shows only the limitations of the individual watching, not the movie itself.

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