Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★★

I might be on a post-movie high, but this is such a fascinating watch that I can't help but want to spew thoughts about it, so a lengthy post with possible mild spoilers is called for! :)

On the whole, Jojo Rabbit is a really entertaining and surprisingly sweet film, which cultivates humanity from the absolute worst evil to have ever festered on this planet. The core focus of the film, the gradual destruction of Jojo's blind fanatical love for the fascist beliefs of the Nazi Party, is executed about as well as one could imagine when considering the aesthetic and tonal approach Waititi has taken here. Nazis are an incredibly common satirical target* and a personal fascination of mine; The reappropriation of Nazi iconography tends to skew towards mockery regardless of who does it, the general consensus being that by doing so, it robs the imagery of it's power. However, I feel like this movie is somewhat misguided in applying a satirical filter. It's a very funny film, and the decision to make the Hitler Youth look like a goofier version of Moonrise Kingdom is fairly genius, but I don't think that this approach ultimately serves the story at hand.

The problem is that Jojo Rabbit is a film that spends very little time actually dissecting the imagery of The Third Reich in any meaningful manner. By it's very existence, it does act as an extension of the idea of appropriated speech, but in actually exploring this idea within the text of the film, it falls a bit flat. The veneer of mockery is present, yes, and certain aspects of the film really do play upon the idea of regularizing hate speech/imagery in a really interesting way; the opening credits' use of a German cover of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" while intercut with footage of Nazi rallies is one of the best things I've seen this year, and Jojo's book uses the ideas of "funny" hate speech in a darkly comedic way that manages to directly service the plot while still developing the thematic dialogue at play. However, these are the only 2 times that I feel the film really explored the ideas of semiotics in a way that meshed with the comedic approach Waititi took, the indulgences into witticism that he is known for in his work making the movie feel a bit more scattershot than it really should've.

Thankfully, the movie is more than just a goofy Nazi comedy, which could've easily sent it into schlock category. Since the core focus of this film is Jojo's deradicalization, then it's vital to note that this comes not from the goofy adventures of Imaginary Hitler, but rather, the emotionally nourishing interactions Jojo has with his mother and Elsa, the Jewish hideaway whose presence is the crux of the story. The film excels in letting these characters show the humanity that comes with being a free thinker, the comparative idiocy of most party members presented in the film (i.e. Rebel Wilson) demonstrating the danger of willful ignorance. There are smart Nazis, free thinkers who either seek to use the system to their advantage (the Gestapo characters all seem to fit this mold), or who play along with the system for their protection (Sam Rockwell, in a role that requires a bit of reading into for me to be totally okay with it), a sign of nuance the film takes in addressing how such clearly evil thinking could've been broadly accepted and enforced. The decline of the war gradually strips away the layers of pastel-fantasy that dominates Jojo's view of an "ideal Germany," although the persistence of lateral framing still gives it a twee look that makes it feel like a missed opportunity to match formalism with thematic development.

Still, Jojo Rabbit a great story, albeit one that builds up a ton of unnecessary layering on top of itself in an attempt to look more "quirky" for the sake of selling the message. Beyond the one guy who was snoring the whole time, my mostly packed theater of ~30 seemed to click with the movie as well as I did, so I suppose this "twee-ness" paid off in making it more entertaining. For as much criticism as I sling on socially relevant movies that I feel lack that extra bit to really make them exceptional, I have never once regretted seeing one. For those who agree with the film's views, it's a chance to see a new perspective on an important issue, and possibly find a kind of stimulation (be it joy or sorrow) along the way; for those who might need these messages more, it's the most accessible way of presenting a good argument for why certain toxic ways of thinking/social issues must change. Jojo Rabbit is insanely successful in this regard, because it has achieved what I suspect will be peak accessibility for this brand of socially-conscious filmmaking. For every opportunity I may have felt was missed, Waititi and Co. took the extra step to strengthening the appeal of the movie, both in terms of attracting an audience, and developing it's emotional depth. That I was able to have so much fun along the way is an added bonus, but Jojo Rabbit's timeliness can't really be understated, and it's novelty may be just the antidote we need to the hate that is still growing in the world at large.

TLDR: The satrical aesthetic isn't really in line with the more emotionally grounded story, as they go in a kind of orbit around each other, doing their specialties really well and being absolute sublime when they cross paths. Still an incredibly worthwhile watch though!

*see also, To Be or Not to Be, The Producers,** or even schlock-tier parody like Kung Fury or Iron Skies for examples in cinema of this kind of comedic reclaiming of the Nazism.

**Lindsay Ellis has a fantastic video on The Producers and Nazi Satire, for anyone who hasn't seen it.

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