What does World War II Germany look like to a young, patriotic German boy? For the most part, Germany is a colorful, safe, and inspiring place for young Jojo. His sense of belonging is bolstered by his loving mother, the camaraderie of Hitler Youth, and the enduring support of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. This is the world of Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi’s new comedy.
Indulging in the freedom that comes along with telling this story from the point of view of a young boy, director, writer, and star Taika Waititi (sometimes credited in earlier work as Taika Cohen) develops a vision of Germany and a portrayal of Hitler that is cathartically ridiculous until it is deeply moving. Waititi leans on Wes Anderson-esque color palettes and cinematography to create a lush world that draws the viewer toward the beautiful details of everyday life and then heartbreakingly turns these symbols on their heads.
Roman Griffin Davis stars as the titular character. This role, Davis’ first foray into the film industry, is an astonishing entrance. As Jojo, Davis brings every nuance that one would expect from a seasoned Hollywood actor. His Jojo is simple, yet multifaceted. He is excruciatingly brave, bigoted, and cruel because he is too innocent to know any better. He is the most empathetic example of what it means to be a product of one’s time and environment. The ensuing journey, as he discovers that his mother is harboring a young Jewish girl in their attic, is at once moving, horrifying, and hilarious.
Although one could lump Jojo Rabbit into a bizarre subgenre of Holocaust reclamation comedies with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Jojo Rabbit is something a little bit different and lot deeper. It means something to receive this story at this time from a Jewish creator who has just finished directing Thor: Ragnorak and who could, in theory, make any film he wanted. It means something to have a powerful, Hollywood player deliver this beautifully crafted jewel of catharsis and know that it meant something to him too.
Jojo Rabbit is a complicated film. It gracefully collects a series of painful truths about our world (both 75 years ago and today) and lays them bare in such a way that we have no choice but to laugh. And in that laughter, there is release. And in that release, there is healing.