Hey y’all, Barbarella here to tell you about a movie I absolutely loved when I saw it at Fantastic Fest this year. I meant to rave about it before it made it to theaters, but apparently, I hit some kind of a worm hole. Although it only seems like a week since the festival, it’s already late October and the film is now in theaters. Back in September, Stephen Merchant and Taika Waititi were on hand in Austin, Texas to introduce the eager audience to JOJO RABBIT. Taika’s latest film looks at WWII through the eyes of a ten-year-old German boy.
About getting the call to be in the film, Stephen Merchant (Extras) relays, “I’ve long thought that I would be a shoe-in for a Gestapo officer, being tall and the whitest man alive. Unlike [Taika] I have no colorful background. I don’t think my [distant] relatives have even left our neighborhood.”
Aside from Stephen Merchant, JOJO RABBIT carries additional star power. Sam Rockwell (MOON), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Scarlett Johansson (AVENGERS), and Rebel Wilson (PITCH PERFECT) play their roles with German accents apparently so that we remember in what country this takes place.
While it may seem odd to think of a movie about Germany at the tail end of World War II as comedic, it actually is, but it goes way beyond a comedy. The beautifully constructed film proves genuinely moving at times, with captivating performances from the child actors. Ten-year-old German Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) dreams of one day joining the Nazi Army. War looks very different through the eyes of innocence, and the young actor captures that essence through his wide-eyed gazes. His world view begins to unravel after discovering Elsa, a Jewish girl, hiding in his house. Thomasin McKenzie nicely balances Elsa’s youthfulness with her personal tragedies and a deeper understanding of what this world has become for her and others like her. As Jojo begins to see the world slightly differently, his own ideas begin to contrast with those of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Yes, that Adolf Hitler, but this isn’t exactly the Hitler one might expect.
Taika Waititi, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, plays a version of Hitler that may be far more reminiscent of something you'd see in Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS than of any accurate historical representation. However, that wasn’t the inspiration for this character. Taika Waititi describes his Hitler as “conjured from the mind of a ten-year old who knows nothing about this world. I wanted this version of Hitler to be exactly the same. He had to know nothing, and he had to be an idiot. I wanted him to have this sort of ten-year-old quality.”
Taika Waititi captures that quality perfectly and extracts so much laughter through his performance. Topically, this film is serious, and the story never strays too far from the horrors of war, although much of the true horror gets sheltered from the audience, much as it would from a child. Weaving the lighter tones through the heavier ones provides an emotional balance that allows for the film to address graver ideas without burdening the audience under the weight of them.
I love the emotional chords the film hits, the exploration into how children experience war, and the humor that keeps me laughing throughout. Taika Waititi approaches the world through a specific lens, and it wouldn’t be his style to make something overly serious. I am grateful he made this film the way he did. It serves as both hilarious entertainment and a reminder of that period in history. Beautifully shot and composed, it’s definitely worth a trip to the theater.