I’m a big fan of Taika Waititi. His film What We Do In the Shadows is one that I’ve introduced to so many people and given to just as many as a gift. His take on Thor pretty much changed the Marvel cinematic universe for the better and is the proof of goodness I point to when people naysay superhero films. And he’s also been behind some intriguing fare like Eagle vs. Shark, Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, all while playing memorable roles like Korg in the Marvel films, Viago in What We Do In the Shadows and IG-11 in The Mandalorian.
His take on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies intrigued me from the first previews. While he was slated to work on a live action adaption of Akira — Hollywood won’t give up on trying — this was a different movie that needed a deft hand. Luckily, Waititi was that hand.
Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis in his first role) is a ten-year-old boy who is a member of Hitlerjugend, the Nazi youth movement. His father is supposedly fighting on the Italian Front, his sister has recently died and all he has left is his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). Oh yeah — and his best and imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (Waititi).
Jojo and his best friend Yorki attend a training camp, run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, as always wonderful), who keeps failing at nearly everything. When ordered to kill a rabbit, Jojo finds that he cannot, earning the nickname Jojo Rabbit. To get back in the graces of the other young Nazis, Hitler convinces Jojo to throw a grenade without permission, which gives him facial scars and a limp.
A demoted Klenzendorf is asked by Jojo’s mother to include her son, so he is given the job of spreading propaganda and collecting scrap metal.
Meanwhile, Rosie is hiding Jewish girl Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace) in her home. The revelation that Jewish people aren’t monsters, as well as the end of the war and his mother’s role in being against the Nazis will change Jojo’s view of the world.
Notably, every Nazi in the film is comedically ineffective, from Rebel Wilson as Fraulein Rahm to Stephen Merchant as the Gestapo agent Deertz and Alfie Allen as the second-in-command Finkel. The town’s stand against the Allies and Russians is well-nigh laughable, but also strangely heartbreaking. There’s been some criticism that the Nazis are shown in a good light at times in this film and as comedic foils at others. To me, they’re shown as objects of derision, paper villains that easily crumble when the real world intrudes. Klenzendorf sees himself as one of the heroic Aryan ideal that winds up in military finery in well-lit paintings with a Wagnerian soundtrack, but the best that he can do is spit in Jojo’s face to save his life.