Suzanna Kessler is a sophomore majoring in Cinematic Arts at APU. Her review of the Oscar-nominated JoJo Rabbit was originally submitted to fulfill a class requirement in WRIT 220: Film Analysis & Criticism. But we thought the review deserved a broader audience!
Ever heard of the Holocaust? The name "Hitler" ring any bells? Of course you have, but have you ever seen a movie about the Holocaust with comedic elements? Unless you’ve seen JoJo Rabbit, I highly doubt it. JoJo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi, is an incredibly unique take on the Holocaust, a traumatic historical event that killed millions of innocent Jews. The film does not support the Holocaust, but the way the story unfolds causes viewers to feel uneasy and question how survivors would react to Waititi’s take on this horrific genocide.
The film follows the life of a ten year-old boy named JoJo. JoJo is training to be a Nazi and is excited to join his pal Yorki for Nazi training camp. Throughout the film, he imagines Hitler to be his imaginary friend. Hitler, portrayed by Waititi himself, is made out to be stupid but funny. JoJo’s mother, Rosie, on the other hand, is a sweet lady who helps hide a young Jewish girl, Elsa, in her upstairs walls. Throughout the film, as JoJo's friendship with Elsa blossoms, he struggles to know if (as he hopes) he truly is a Nazi or if he is kind like his mother.
This setup allows for the Holocaust to seem more light-hearted than most films tackling this tough issue do, which I believe works in some ways and in some ways seriously does not. The comedy makes the film much easier to watch, but it does not seem appropriate when portraying an event that caused so much pain to so many people. The fact that it follows the perspective of not only a Nazi, but a young boy who is a Nazi, is awry. Using this perspective allows the audience to better understand that perhaps some Nazis were ill-informed on what they were doing and how bad the Holocaust actually was. However, I am not sure that is an accurate representation of the situation.
JoJo is a young boy who believes he is doing the right thing. He wants to be a Nazi, to fight for Germany, and to be a part of something. However, as he gets to know Elsa and interacts more with his mother, he starts questioning if he actually is doing the right thing. Hitler, his imaginary friend in this case, tries to convince him to come back and fight with the Nazis. JoJo’s battle with himself is what drives the plot of the film. Considering the fact that the main character was played by a child whose role is a crucial component to the film, the acting was surprisingly well done. Of course, there were a few slips here and there with the German accents but that was pretty much all across the cast, not just the young actors.
The movie provoked a wide array of emotions. There were comedic elements, very depressing moments and lots in between. The scenes where JoJo interacts with Hitler tend to include Hitler making some sort of joke and these moments often were used as comedic relief. On the other hand, moments were very somber when JoJo sees war in action and people dying. The characters were well-cast and the acting was impressive. The dynamics among the cast members played well on screen. JoJo’s relationship with his mother (Rosie), Captain Klenzendorf, Elsa, and Hitler are all very compelling and each unique. JoJo's relationship with his mother helps to emphasize his internal struggle of which side he is truly on. Contradicting that relationship is JoJo’s and the Captain’s—his admiration of Klenzendorf pairs well in opposition of that with Rosie. JoJo’s relationship with both Rosie and Elsa expose his sweeter side, whereas Hitler and Klenzendorf expose his evil side.
Although the story is interesting, entertaining, and satisfying, portraying Hitler as comic relief is a questionable choice. It does work well to tell this particular story, but is it acceptable to make jokes of such a terrible genocide? Is this story worth the risk of offending many persecuted people? I’m leaning toward "no." It was a well-made artistic movie that showed the Holocaust from a different perspective, but I’m not sure it emphasized how appalling the Holocaust truly was.
If you’re looking for a controversial movie to watch, I’d say go for it and see JoJo Rabbit. I’d love to hear what others are thinking. It is definitely a new way to look at things. As for me, I think I’ll stick to less controversial comedies.