This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Michael Stearns’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Jojo Rabbit is one of those films that I consistently enjoy returning to. I believe I have seen this four times now and each time is equally as impactful and enjoyable as the last. While Rebel Wilson may become more grating with each watch, everything else remains consistent, if not better.
The film tells the story of this young boy, Jojo, who is living in WWII Germany. Jojo has a fixation on Nazi's and longs to become one and befriend Hitler himself. His imaginary friend is Hitler, played hilariously by Taika Waititi, and he often has these internal conversations with him that are satirical, yet play into Jojo's jaded view of the world. The film most blatantly plays as a satire on the Nazis, but later becomes a much more heartfelt film of acceptance.
When I first viewed this film, I walked in completely blind, so I was shocked by the reveal of the young Jewish girl living upstairs. I genuinely expected this to be one of Waititi's satires filled with nothing but comedy, but it is much more than that. What Jojo Rabbit manages to capture is something more personal than other films set in WWII. Portraying the war from the viewpoint of a Nazi obsessed ten year old boy offers up a genuine inner-struggle of implicit biases and the realities of the ideology of the Nazis. While the film does often make fun of the absurdity of the Nazis and their perception of Jewish people and their own propaganda, it never shies away from showing the reality of WWII and the impact that had on the lives of German soldiers, families, Jewish people in hiding, and Germans who opposed the war.
What I love is the balance of tone throughout the film. What starts as something comical and ridiculous slowly unravels itself into a realistic depiction of the time. It never uses it's comedy for a cheap laugh and instead uses it as a way to convey perceptions of the time and how easily a young boy's mind can be manipulated into believing lies through fear and propaganda. When the revelation occurs to Jojo and he recognizes that the young Jewish girl is no different than anyone else, his internal conflict and road to acceptance become hindered by the weight of the war and a continuous emotional rollercoaster as he learns the truth of those around him.
The breaking point is most certainly that of Jojo's mother's death. In an unexpected twist (and one that has me close to tears every time I see it), Jojo stumbles into his mother hanging in the town square after she has been sneaking around the city spreading anti-Nazi propaganda. The foreshadowing on this moment is done so incredibly well through the use of three of the same framed shots of Scarlett Johansson's shoes above Jojo's head. When the moment comes, it is shocking and one that breaks my heart. It is from here that Jojo's vision truly begins to clear and he recognizes the effects of the Nazis and their war and how earth shattering they are for him.
At the end of it all, Jojo is only left with the one thing he was certain he would never love, a Jewish person. His family is gone, as well as Captain K, and his only option is to accept and dance with the only person he has left to love. Their bond is beautiful and Jojo's journey through this hellish war is both moving and upsetting. I had never expected to feel so passionate and be so emotionally moved by Jojo Rabbit, but here we are. Of all of Taika Waititi's films I have seen, this is by far his most mature and my personal favorite.