Growing up, I had a slight impression that film comedies that were called “satirical” were always a little “smarter” than other comedies, not to mention sometimes riskier.
When Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator in 1940 (one year before the US entered the war), he was finally playing off the premise of how Adolf Hitler (who, it is said copied his mustache off of Chaplin) looked just like him. During the 1960s, Stanley Kubrick decided to make a satire off of nuclear war, and in the process, his Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) became one of the best of the genre (“You can’t fight in here: This is the war room!”)
All that said, it is not hard to see how some will be disturbed (to say the least) about the newest film by Director/Writer Taika Waititi (who made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, as well as played the film’s sidekick Korg), JoJo Rabbit, which has been billed as an anti-hate satire. Set in the last year or so of the war, the film centers on its protagonist Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis, who gives quite a film debut) as a somewhat precocious ten year old. Having lost his older sister years ago and having his father fighting in the war, he is left basically alone with his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).
As is the case with every 10 year old boy (and I would assume girls as well), he needs someone to look up to. Due to the time period and the fact that he lives in Germany, there is really no one else he could idolize other than Hitler, who shows up as his imaginary friend (played by Waititi). He goes to help at the local Nazi center which is run by Captain Klenzendorf (Oscar winner Sam Rockwell) and his assistant Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). Even in this setting, Jojo is somewhat of an outcast desperately trying to fit in, with the exception of his friend Yorkie (played by a scene stealing Archie Yates). Jojo’s life is thrown a curveball when he realizes that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who starred in 2018’s criminally under seen great film Leave No Trace).
Most of the film is indeed shown through young Jojo’s eyes, with the exception of a few scenes. The most affecting ones are those with him and Elsa (who I was friends with Jojo’s sister years before). There is some funny imagery of their first encounter, where McKenzie is showing movements like she was almost out of a horror film (she does this on purpose). The rest I won’t spoil for you, except to say that it is proof that these are two young talents worthy of future attention.
The character arc of Jojo is well executed (no small thanks to the young Davis). His mother is out during the day, so most of what he experiences and learns from Elsa (as well as from the Nazi center) is authentic and direct. There also were not as many scenes as I was anticipating with Waititi’s Hitler (though they are rather amusing). By the end of the film, it has indeed died down on the comedy, as the whole situation of the war is finally revealed to the titular character. Moral relativism does not abide in this film: there is a true understanding of what happened and why it was bad. Moral implications also arise, given the nature of hiding a Jewish person from the authorities.
Parents, the film is PG-13 mainly due to swearing (one F bomb) and some violence. Mainly, the content and premise is what to watch out for if anyone sees this movie without knowing it is a comedy.
As an aside, I feel I should point out that I am more than aware of the atrocities that the real Hitler executed during his time of rule. Millions of lives were lost, and the affects are still felt to this day. How there are people who actually believe the Holocaust did not happen is something I will never know, nor want to. Sometimes humor is a way that people deal with evil and suffering, so having a comedy set in Nazi Germany is one of the ways we can emotionally deal with the atrocities that occurred.
The issue I had with the film was how, at times, it seemed to have difficulty finding its tone . The movie really only started working for me once Elsa was introduced. Still, credit should be given to the cast and crew for attempting something not only risky, but original.
It isn’t every day you see Hitler jumping out the window.