At home, JoJo is being raised by his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who has a great deal of affection for him and tolerates JoJo’s Nazi aspirations. This next part is not a spoiler because it’s in the trailer, but there’s a secret side to Rosie. One night, while his mother is gone, JoJo discovers a teenage girl living in the walls of his home. Her name is Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and her mother has been hiding her since the Germans began rounding up the Jews.
Jojo is now torn between being a good Nazi and protecting his family. With the help of imaginary Hitler, JoJo decides he’ll make a good Nazi by studying the Jew and publishing his research. Tense interviews with Elsa and horrible pictures of Jews with horns place a strain on this dangerous relationship.
“…masterfully balances the film’s comedy with the seriousness of the subject.”
There’s a lot to dissect. Let’s just start with the satire. It can be unnerving to laugh at the atrocities of the Nazis and the Holocaust. If Mel Brooks can do it, so can Taika Waititi. Yes, this Aryan afterschool program is laughable. Should I really be laughing at this and if so, how much longer am I allowed to before I become a white supremacist myself. Western Civilization has a long tradition of belittling our enemies and mocking authority. So yeah, it’s OK.
Fortunately/unfortunately, events take a brutally serious tone when JoJo discovers Elsa in the walls. The rest of the film explores this disconnect between everything he’s been told about his motherland and those Jews and the realities of the human being living in his walls. The heart of the film finds Jojo struggling to come to terms with this cognitive dissonance and the realization that doing what is right comes at a great cost. Director Waititi masterfully balances the film’s comedy with the seriousness of the subject. He plays with your emotions to heighten the impact of the story’s message. Nothing in this film feels gratuitous and the tonal shift in the film will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Silliness aside, Jojo Rabbit is about a ten-year-old boy who is forced to become an adult quickly. The moment he does, the film becomes a strong punch in the gut. Child actors are hit or miss. Roman Griffin Davis is particularly good. For one, he acts like a 10-year-old boy, but Davis also takes us through Jojo’s transformation from a child indoctrinated with hate to one of a reluctant hero. There’s a lie he tells at the end that will break your heart.
"…should I really be laughing at this..."