Is it possible to make a semi-serious, but humorous parody of
Nazis? Yes, if it's handled
just right. And
Director/Writer Taika Waititi wields a distinctly deft touch.
Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old boy who's recruited
for Hitler's Youth Camp, at a time when the Third Reich is already reeling
on the battlefield. Jojo is so
gung-ho that in his 10-year-old mind, Adolph Hitler personally appears to
him to encourage him. This
little boy's version of Hitler is not the fiery demagogue or the cruel
oppressor, but instead the chatty, avuncular, non-confrontational type.
Like a favorite uncle, except in an ill-fitting uniform.
Jojo's actual experience with the Youth Camp is less than
heartening. They try to get
him to act tough and be tough, but Jojo is sweet at heart, even though he
wants so badly to fit in. They
try to get him to kill a rabbit by twisting its neck, pretending it's a
despicable Jew, but Jojo can't do it.
He just runs. And they
call after him, “Jojo Rabbit!”, which isn't exactly a complimentary
nickname. And the irony is
that Jojo's mother, Rosie, happens to be hiding a Jew in their attic.
Rosie, you see, is a clandestine Communist.
She tells her little boy that his father is off at war, which is
not exactly a lie, but he's not fighting for the Nazis, either.
Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) thinks the war effort is futile, but she
doesn't want to discourage Jojo in his naive enthusiasm.
She does, however, try to keep Jojo from meeting Elsa (Thomasin
McKenzie), the girl in the attic. She's
just a teenager who's been shunted around different hiding places until
she ended up in Rosie's attic. There's
not much to eat, and there's not much privacy, but at least she's safe.
If Mr. Waititi dances a fine line playing Adolph while Directing,
he asks Sam Rockwell, as Captain Klenzendorf, to walk a similar fine line.
The Captain is obviously war-weary, maybe even shell-shocked into
PTSD, but he's put in charge of this Youth Camp, and he's going to take it
as seriously as he can while showing up drunk and dishevelled.
Rebel Wilson, as Fraulein Rahm, adds to the tongue-in-cheek irony
by being the sweet lady who hands out hand grenades.
Even with the heavy explosions at the end, it still feels like a
set, so the drama maintains an air of unreality.
The solemn alternates with the slapstick, but somehow we manage to
squeeze out a plot that signals the end of the War, and with it the end of
Adolph's grip on the psyche of the country.
Yes, it's obvious the Jews are persecuted, but we don't have to
take the emotional beating of trying to sit through “Schindler's
List.” Yes, Jojo gets
disillusioned with the Aryan posturing and endures his own tragedies, but
still manages to retain some boyish charm.
Yes, it's an odd duck of a film, that may or may not resonate with
older audiences. But it might
be a clever way for young people to be reminded of some of the grisly
lessons while still being entertained.
If so, then the whole unique satirical lampoon is well worth the