Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit ★★★½

One of Taika Waititi's weaknesses as a filmmaker has been his tendency to stretch the internal logic of a character or plot for a laugh. Because such an approach takes the viewer out of the film's world for a moment, when Waititi needs to hit a dramatic or somber note - many times directly following a humorous beat - it feels false; how are we to feel sorrow for characters when they cannot even wait a beat to start cracking jokes themselves? While I have heard some critics complain Jojo Rabbit falls into this same trap, I actually think this is the first Waititi film I have seen where he manages a deft balance between parody and pathos.

Part of why that works here is that the film is largely about childish credulity maturing into a more adult awareness. Even though the film ends with a broad "love conquers all" sentiment, Waititi does manage a nuanced statement on how propaganda preys on children and the childish in all of us. During the title sequence, Waititi contrasts Beatlemania with Germany's fanatic reverence for Hitler at the height of his power. What both of these phenomena share is a hive mind desire to be part of the moment, to cheer who you've been told is cheer worthy alongside everyone else, to be "in the know." Propoganda - as Waititi's own imaginary version of Hitler says - puts you in a "brain prison," where you are locked into a singular worldview. Among an outstanding cast that all seem to be sharing in Waititi's own clownish spirit (and clear Chaplin inspiration here), Scarlet Johansson's complex mother character, Rosie, embodies a spirit of resistance to that mentality. Her performance fluctuates when she is in private, public, or with her son, as she internally struggles to maintain her own morality while not alerting her brainwashed countrymen or completely losing her son to the same mania.

The film understands it is laughably easy to get caught in a "brain prison," especially when you only see the world through the trusting innocence of a child. Breaking free of that can be difficult, even deadly, but, as the closing epigraph suggests, no feeling is final. Any prison can be escaped.

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