Steve Lovecraft’s review published on Letterboxd:
Before I get started, are any of my friends or contacts Nazis? Anyone? No? That’s surprising; nobody has the chutzpah to proudly declare themselves amongst the ranks of some of the 20th century’s most heinous war criminals, and they’re too chicken to call themselves a proponent of one of the most hateful ideological plagues mankind has yet concocted? I’m surprised because the tenets of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party aren’t a far cry from white nationalism or white supremacy, yet the prevalent narrative in American discourse declares the latter two as acceptable enough viewpoints that they should be given a fair shake in today’s marketplace of ideas. I just wanted to make sure I’m not offending anyone because espousing the wishful eradication of non-white peoples is evidently as debatable a subject as whether or not your high-schooler should be able to casually buy military grade assault weaponry.
I guess what I’m really getting at is that there is a reasonable way to traverse our political realities - and indeed even reasonable answers, yet more often than not we defer to propaganda, reactionary hot-takes, and incendiary personalities over the cold rationality of common sense. It’s only too easy when we’ve brainwashed ourselves into thinking that homogeneity breeds prosperity, power justifies itself, and oppression and misfortune are just a relative rite of passage that anyone perceivedly less than us deserves to be bludgeoned with as they wake up from the nightmare of the “American Dream”. I might be getting a little tangential here, so to reign it all in, I couldn’t help but ask when all of this Trump-era emboldened racist crap popped up, “Don’t you remember who the bad guys were in Indiana Jones?”
Evidently something similar was going through Taika Waititi’s mind when he conceived of his latest film Jojo Rabbit. Set in the last days of WWII Germany, the film follows a 10 year old boy named Johannes, an ardent member of the Hitler youth who lives with his mother while his father is away at war. He has a very active imagination including an imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi), and he follows the party platform and ideology as well as any 10 year old could unfortunately hope to. When he discovers his mother has been hiding a Jewish teenage girl in the house (Thomasin McKenzie in another great turn after Leave No Trace), thanks to this unwanted guest who becomes a stand-in for his late sister Jojo has to grapple with a direct empathic affront to his naive but bigoted worldview.
Yes, it’s a simple enough setup with an aesthetic and tone not too dissimilar from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom if he had just added, y’know, Nazis. While it maintains the childlike mindset’s playfulness with a typically clever script from Waititi, there are a few rug pulls that bring into stark relief the tumult and tragedy of the setting. Despite it being a fairly straightforward comedy script with pratfalls and farcical elements, it still manages to work in drama, tragedy, and poignant visually thematic elements that would seem forced or out of place in other films that would try to set up that many emotional goals. The very subject matter also might seem tasteless if handled improperly. After all, the Third Reich were monstrous killing machines aided by a complacent, if not complicit, general public. Making them out to be anything less than that or even worse - innocuously amusing - would just be irresponsible, but I think Waititi has managed that tightrope act here.
But like any heartfelt plea to the better nature of those xenophobic hate-mongers who may or may not hold public office, a movie like this can only hold up a mirror to those who wish to see the best of themselves in the world. Let’s hope there’s a little common sense left in this country before we end up like Germany did not so long ago.