In 2020, you’d be easily forgiven for confusing an article on The Onion for actual news. Or vice-versa. That does not take anything away from the increasing relevance of a publication like The Onion, which has never shied away from using acutely acerbic satire to comment on the political miscreants of the times. This argument about The Onion’s relevance and importance can surely be extrapolated to the general relevance of art forms involving satire, and the larger entity of comedy. Comedians, by way of different media, have always been at the forefront of political activism.
This premise accentuates the timeliness and importance of a film like “Jojo Rabbit”, which is the most inventive form of satirical cinema I have seen that is not a Coen Brothers’ film. I say inventive, because this movie is a careful conception, a work of designed brilliance, a deliberate formulation that ends up being completely uncanny, surreal, and on point. I guess you can say that about all great movies, can’t you?
This inventiveness spotlights how accomplished a creator Taika Waititi (Writer-Director) is. Walking away from the film, it is initially hard to fathom that this very director also made the wacky “Thor: Ragnarok”. On second thoughts though, If you put both of them under a surgical scalpel, you can see the similarities in style - both are films bathing in goofy humor, yet so full of both art and heart. This style becomes especially resonant when applied to the subject of “Jojo Rabbit”.
The film is a satirical take on fanaticism in Nazi Germany, focusing on a young boy (Johannes “Jojo” Betzler) who aspires to be in Hitler’s army fighting the allied forces. He spends his days volunteering for the local Hitler youth camp, has an imaginary friend who is Hitler himself, and later finds out that his mother has been secretly hiding an orphaned Jew girl in their house. The setting is ripe for an anti-hate satire (as the movie’s posters call it). Waititi completely exploits this setting with his unique sense of humor, while never going overboard.
That said, Waititi also manages to give the film a tangible delicacy that is beautiful. As I said, the film is full of heart, delivering not just chuckles, but also many moments of sincere sorrow and joy. These moments espouse and explore some simple tenets of life and humanity, by way of a mother talking to her son about life, a young boy being infatuated with a slightly older girl, and so on.
Perking these moments up are the non-invasive music (original score by Michael Giacchino) and cinematography (Mihai Malamare Jr.), both of which are deeply effective and aplomb-worthy on their own. There’s also a string of marvelous actors to boot, each punching a new weight in their career - Waititi as imaginary Hitler, Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother, Sam Rockwell as the ever-drunk Captain of the youth camp, and Thomasin McKenzie as the girl in hiding. But it is Roman Griffin Davis’ act as Jojo that just tugs at your soul.
In a scene towards the beginning of the film, Jojo and his mother pass by their town’s square, where Nazis hang Jews and their supporters and leave their bodies hanging on public display. Jojo asks his mother what they have done to be hanged. She sighs and says they “did what they could”, indirectly acknowledging their work in resisting the Nazis and their hatred. In what has been a terrible year, I guess, that is a mantra we can adopt: doing what we can, for things to be better. Because life is mostly what you make of it. Hate begets hate. Kindness begets kindness. Love begets love. Peace.
“Jojo Rabbit” is now streaming on HBO MAX.
Atlantic City says so much about two people in a relationship, without saying too much.
A comedy that is fun, while being just good cinema in the first place.