Director: Taika Waititi
Talent: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi
Release: 1 January
10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Davis) wants to be the best Nazi the Third Reich has ever seen. His bedroom is adorned with all kinds of Nazi paraphernalia, he greets everyone with an enthusiastic ‘Heil Hitler’ and he dreams of one day fighting on the frontlines for his Führer. With his father missing in combat, he’s created an imaginary friend in the form of Adolf himself. But when he discovers that his mother is sheltering a Jew called Elsa (McKenzie) from the Gestapo, his iron-clad fanaticism is tested.
Jojo Rabbit bills itself as an ‘anti-hate satire’, which is a bit grand for a script this simple. The ‘satire’ never goes beyond ‘Nazism is really dumb’, which I mean, sure it is, but other words like ‘degrading’ and ‘genocidal’ also come to mind. Jojo never digs too deep into these aspects, preferring to depict Nazis as a bunch of misinformed goofballs, with Hitler as their insecure simpleton leader.
There’re many broad jokes about Jews having scales or batwings. ‘Geez, Nazis sure are silly, AMIRITE?’ the film seems to scream. Taika Waititi’s smartarse humour works wonders when taking the piss out of vampire flicks and superhero tropes, but when put against the backdrop of The Third Reich, it comes dangerously close to downplaying the true horrors of Nazism.
Thankfully, Waititi is such an accomplished director that Jojo Rabbit remains engaging and frequently funny (when it’s not making stale jokes about anti-Semitism). Basing the film around Jojo’s blinkered perspective allows Waititi to sidestep the most odious aspects of Hitler’s regime, letting him have his cake and eat it. But while Jojo Rabbit might profess that Nazism is stupid, that even a child can see through it, it’s completely disinterested in exploring why it thrived regardless. Maybe that’s expecting too much from a family film, but then again, there’s a reason why Nazi Germany isn’t a popular setting for children’s fare.
Words: Jack O’Higgins