This year’s Oscars justly rewarded some cinematographic gems and Jojo Rabbit was no exception, as the recipient of Best Adapted Screenplay. Taika Waititi, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film, is believed to be the first Māori filmmaker to receive this honor. His speech brought representation to the Māori, and was dedicated to “all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories”. Christine Leunen, the author of Caging Skies (the novel that Waititi adapted), said of the film: “There was something very distinctive, tragedy and humour. Living in New Zealand, I find that the Māori have such a wonderful sense of humour, and such warmth and such inclusivity.”
— NITV (@NITV) February 10, 2020
An audacious satire
The film was controverted from the very moment it was announced and faced mixed reviews once it hit theatres. What else would you expect from a film which features a goofy Hitler and a ten-year-old boy fanatic as a protagonist?
We never actually see death camps, ghettos, and battlefields. Instead, the whole movie takes place in a pretty town, far from the fronts of WWII. But that doesn’t stop the film from addressing, in-depth, the anti-Semitic thinking which took place during that period. It shows us that dangerous rhetorics begin in the most seemingly harmless places.
The movie opens with a montage of real footage from Nazi rallies and serves as a chilling reminder of the wide-reaching brainwashing and atrocities of Nazi Germany. This indoctrination is exemplified through our protagonist, ten-year-old boy Jojo. The plot takes on the perspective of the boy’s fanatical eyes whose love for Hitler runs deep; he even has the chancellor as an imaginary friend. However, his world turns upside down after he suffers a live-grenade accident at a Nazi youth camp. Saddened, he resorts to simple manual labor around his town.
Spending more time at home leads to another event that discombobulates him: he meets a Jewish girl called Elsa. He finds out, incredulous, that his mother has been hiding her in his dead sister’s room’s walls. However, despite his outspoken love for Nazi ideology, Elsa doesn’t see Jojo as a threat. For her, he is a boy who simply wants to “be part of a club”. And little by little, Jojo’s unsuccessful attempts to oust her grow into thought-provoking conversations.
A case for the importance of introspection
These conversations challenge the anti-Semitic political climate which surrounds Jojo. For the first time, he faces a very stark and humanized contradiction. An internal conflict grows within the boy: one that clashes with the Nazi rhetoric he learned in school and clung onto through his imaginary friend. The movie prompts the audience to root for Jojo to do the right thing, for he is in a delicate and formative stage of his life that will inform his character once he grows up.
The movie shouldn’t serve as a primary educational tool. However, it does prove itself to be a valuable commentary. Dynamic, Jojo Rabbit contains enough comedic relief without lazily glossing-over important points. It prompts us to reflect upon our own beliefs, and what exactly it is that shapes them.
Featured Image: Jojo Rabbit