Based on the title alone, one would think you were about to screen a live-action animated feature. Not true.
Jojo Rabbit balances on a high wire, invoking the savage antisemitism of the Nazi era while poignantly providing parallels to today’s fascist ideologies. Waititi, who has a gift for infusing real heart with previous works, guides this comedically dark satire with taboo-breaking scenes reminiscent of Monty Python or Mel Brooks right into an emotionally, touching commentary of prejudice vs humanity lane Jojo confronts the damage his own conscience.
Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a precocious, proud member of the Hitler Youth in World War II Germany with an egregious blind spot. Socially awkward, Jojo passes much of his time with his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi), a cuddly, energetic, pep-talking version of the historically despised Nazi leader. When Jojo discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been working for the resistance, helping to keep safe the Jewish people he’s been taught to hate, Jojo is faced with the choice of clinging to his hateful beliefs or embracing his humanity.
As a woman of color in this country, this film struck a particularly strong chord. Just as Jews in WW II were considered to be devilish, mythical creatures who are less than human, the same occurred millions of miles away in America with people of color. I vividly remember an instance as a child where my color was believed to be a ‘choice.’ Some kids believed I could wash off my color or thought I looked ‘dirty.’ Words can not begin to express how hurtful, annoying and completely disease filled this type of ignorance can literally permeate ones’ self-worth growing up in a country in and a group of people who simply hate you based on nothing else other than your skin color.
Taika Waititi has his finger on the pulse of American culture in the most absurd, viscerally disturbing manner to date, but is right on time…as is his performance, writing and direction. Scarlett Johansson is quite loving and grounded as the Mom who has empathy Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), the young girl reminiscent of Anne Frank hiding in an upstairs closet. Sam Rockwell is really beginning to bond with roles of racist men (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). As the leader of a Boy Scout-esque Nazi boot camp though, he is pure un-adulterated comedy with Rebel Wilson as his crazy, loyal sidekick. Roman Griffin Davis’ brilliant performance is enhanced and complimented by comedic kamikaze Archie Yates (Yorki).
There are several scenes that will sear in your memory, but the most heart-wrenching is that of having a first-love who’s not what you have been taught by society should be embraced and accepted. At the end of the day, love doesn’t have a racial profile. Love is about humanity and understanding, which is exactly what will engulf you at the core after screening Jojo Rabbit, produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures on October 18th.