The first film I watched in 2020 was JoJo Rabbit, a comedy film based around a boy in the Hitler Youth at the tail end of Second World War. Johannes is a social outcast after an accident at his summer camp and has imaginary chats with Adolf Hitler to help him manoeuvre through his day. As the allies advance on Berlin, Johannes’ mother harbours a jewish girl whom Johannes falls in love with.
Although Nazi Germany is a strange setting of a comedy (particularly in today’s climate and the rise of Neo nazis in America) I’m glad to say that the comedy lands. I was sat between a teenager and a pensioner and was pleasantly surprised to see them both laughing throughout the film. It should be clearly stated that the film criticised and lampoons the Nazis. At one point the phrase Heil Hitler is said thirty one times in sixty seconds to illustrate how ridiculous and unnecessary Nazi protocols were.
I’m always hesitant of child actors and I’m going to take this opportunity to state an unpopular opinion. I think that the main trio from the Harry Potter films Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were terrible child actors. Daniel Radcliffe has gone on record as saying his performance in the first Harry Potter film was cringeworthy and I agree with him. Home Alone is another prime example but I really liked the lead actor Roman Griffin Davis as Johannes Betzler or “Jojo Rabbit”. He reminded me of conversations I was having at the age of ten and his naivety of what the war really means and the concept of death is truly heartbreaking. All of the cast’s performance was brilliant including Thomasin McKenzie who played Elsa the Jewish girl.
I thought the film would be a straight comedy film with a loose plot, similar to the Austin Powers film or Tenacious D. I was surprised that although it was a comedy there was a solid plot. It is very rare in England (or at least any cinema I have been in) for the audience to gasp or burst out talking in the middle of the film. There is a plot twist half way through, that I won’t spoil for you here, that made everyone in my screen gasp. Maybe that for that moment alone, this film is worth watching.
It was also interesting to see World War Two portrayed by the Axis powers. Most World War films made in the western culture focus on the efforts of the British and American soldiers. As such, the western public have a black and white view of Nazi Germany, picturing the citizens living in poverty amid crumbling buildings. Taika Waititi’s Germany is colourful and optimistic, even in the face of defeat. It is important to acknowledge that Germany citizens also lost their lives in the Second World War, some in efforts to stop the Nazi party, and that these people are often overlooked.
With such a sensitive topic, it was inevitable that this film would not please everyone. Although the audience I was with enjoyed the film, critics and viewers alike have called it disrespectful, meaningless and offensive. I can understand where some of these complaints are coming from. If your family has a history in the holocaust, you may not like the way the Nazis or the citizens of Nazi Germany are humanised. The film has also angered extremist groups such as the Nazis (yes, they are still around) or the Neo nazis but their complaints do not seem to have harmed the film’s ratings.
I’ll award JoJo Rabbit eight rabbits out of ten.