- Jojo Rabbit
From the opening bars of the Beatles German language version of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (Ich möchte deine Hand halten), you know you are in for a genre-blending, mind blowing snarky pop powered treat. Jojo Rabbit is candidly Taika Waititi's latest offering in his quest to supplant all his predecessors as the master of satire. A pastiche of several directors' worth of style and trademarked signatures, Jojo Rabbit is a wonderful dark comedic satire set during the last days of the Third Reich.
Adapted from the novel, Caging Skies (Christine Leunen 2008), Jojo Rabbit seeks to present us a totalitarian, fascist regime as we have rarely experienced it before: through the eyes of an 11-year- old boy. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a standard issue German blonde with piercing blue eyes. A genetic affirmation of the Aryan supremacy of Germans, Jojo automatically skewers that impression by proving to be your standard issue outcast and runt. While he may present the features the Fuhrer was most impressed with, he in no way impresses anyone as a stalwart Aryan hero. In his first major sequence, Jojo manages to stab himself with his knife, fail to kill a rabbit, and injure himself recklessly flinging a lit grenade, only to have it ricochet and severely scar and deform his perfect little alabaster body.
Despite these many setbacks, Jojo does have a few things going for him: his ever supportive mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson); his best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates); and his imaginary friendship with The Fuhrer himself, Adolf (Taika Waititi, in a comedic tour de force performance). Between these three relationships, Jojo manages to develop the sense of self necessary to stay alive during the most precarious and risky time in Berlin. If it wasn't for the Jew hiding in the wall behind his dead sister Inge's bedroom (very capably portrayed by Thomasin McKenzie), Jojo's life would be about as perfect as life in a city running out of food can be.
It's this off relationship, Jojo coming to grips with Elsa, the Jewish girl in question that powers the drama of the film. After all, while Jews are meant to be rounded up and shot, if one were discovered to be helping a Jew in any way, they too would be eliminated. You may be wondering at this time, how such a dark premise can be lightened with laughter. This is the special alchemy of Waititi.
Waititi very wisely did a deep study of Berlin during the war years. He has clearly examined the Nazi structures, and how the Third Reich functioned. In this way, he is able to extract the most ridiculous, surreal behaviors of the Nazis and create a farcical absurdity to the otherwise deadly serious setting. Hunting lore instructs a beast is at its most dangerous when it's cornered, and several times in the cinematic text, we learn the Russians, English, and Americans are all converging on Berlin. However, for most of the people Jojo interacts with, this prospect of imminent invasion feels a little bit distanced; it's removed from the immediate concerns of discovering treacherous Germans and making preparations for a siege of their fair city.
During the war years, Berlin was very lovely. In his film, Waititi chooses to paint the German capital with the bright pastel colors of the Wes Anderson palate. In fact, most dialogue scenes are shot [End Page 34] directly head-on, with the forced perspective famed in all Anderson films. Further, the entire soundtrack is a mix tape of popular rock songs translated to German. This deepens the extensive cribbing of Anderson's signatures, but also makes a grand Germanic context for the film. It is especially noteworthy, despite the predominantly German and American cast, every character speaks with a perfectly clipped High German accent. It's a moment of revelatory wonder. Finally, a film set in Eastern Europe, and not one character sounds in any way English, American, or even Kiwi. Great props must be extended for the...