Some films come along and with their existence truly shake up what it means to go to the cinema. You’re expecting these films to go right, but instead, they go left, then right, then they turn around in a circle and then go left again, and through experiencing this as an audience member, you feel like you’ve witnessed something extraordinary. Jojo Rabbit is that film, and visionistical New Zealand director Taika Waititi has created that feeling here in what is the most important film of the year.
During the Second World War, lonely German boy Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) has his worldview turned upside down when he discovers that his single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend in the form of an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.
With Jojo Rabbit Taika Waititi’s total creativity is on display here in this ‘anti-hate satire’ and the results are incredible. Taking audiences back to Nazi Germany circa late 1944, Waititi builds out a cinematic experience that truly stands on its own within every part of its construction. From direction to the narrative, set dressing and costuming, music and cinematography, and not to mention an incredibly gifted cast who give their all and open up their hearts to this very special project, Jojo Rabbit has it all and then some.
Every time Waititi approaches a new canvas he brings to life something entirely new and fresh to the big screen, and Jojo Rabbit stands out from all of his previous pictures. While on the surface, Jojo Rabbit is an outlandishly zany comedy, the laughter is used as a smoke-screen of sorts by the talented director to help discuss some critical dramatic issues which are of extreme relevance to the film’s setting, along with our own current time period today. It is here through his unique filter that Waititi can discuss issues related to love, acceptance, prejudice, tolerance and freedom, and he does an incredible job doing so.
In watching Jojo Rabbit we are seeing Waititi mature as a filmmaker, and his unique artistic voice is sure to entrance audiences here with its wild style and the deep issues that he focuses in on within the film. You really can’t pick where this film is going to go as it possesses a style all of its own. Gone is the classic three-act narrative structure that audiences have become so familiar with and in its place is a very unique frame by which to watch this film. Waititi and editor Tom Eagles get innovative in the cutting room and combined with the whimsical score of composer Michael Giacchino, all of your emotions are sure to rise to the surface here. Waititi, through his own heritage, is extremely sensitive to the issues present in the film, yet he does not hide away from anything that could be felt to be upsetting. Through his utilization of both satire and realism, Waititi crafts something that affects his audience for the better and he needs to be commended for his actions here.
Waititi is not alone in bringing the specialness of Jojo Rabbit to life and he has an incredible cast on hand to help him. At the forefront of this is young Roman Griffin Davis who takes on the role of Johannes “Jojo” Betzler and he shines in the role. When we first meet Jojo he’s just your typical 10-year old boy who’s living his best Nazi life in a tumultuous Germany filled with day trips to a Hitler Youth camp and time helping to spread the Nazi ideology. In short, Jojo is filled by fanatical fervour and is a zealot to Hitler’s cause….but he’s not all he seems to be. Underneath this radical fanaticism is a sensitive boy who’s actually a good kid and who through the events of the movie learns some true lessons in relation to right and wrong, and who is thoroughly changed by the movie’s completion.
Griffin Davis is fantastic in the role and shoulders the responsibility of this film with incredible ease and skill. He shows a great array of emotions here and as an audience member, you completely buy into the transformative journey that he undertakes via the power of his performance. Griffin Davis is an incredible asset to this film, and its success truly rests with him, and the story and its narrative power is all the more successful because of his involvement.
Matched next to Griffin Davis is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa Korr, a teenaged Jewish girl who has secretly been hiding in the walls of Jojo’s home and who becomes a foil for him in the very beginning of the film. As the events of the film unfold their relationship grows in a very interesting way and McKenzie’s Elsa is the most interesting character to take to the screen.
And it must be said that Thomasin McKenzie is a complete revelation in the part. The 19-year-old New Zealand actress completely holds the centre of the audience’s attention and strikes a great balance between a tough-minded survivor and a sort of caring elder sister to Griffin Davis’ Jojo. As the events of the film progress and their narrative grows stronger the two of them reach an interesting place narratively and McKenzie’s power as an actress is on full display by the end of the film. This young actress does an incredible job in Jojo Rabbit and with her level of talent, she’s surely ready for plenty of Hollywood glory in the near future.
Lending considerable support to Griffin Davis and McKenzie in this film are established players including Scarlett Johansson as Rosie Betzler, Jojo’s mother and Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, a German army officer who runs the Hitler Youth Camp that Jojo attends and who is sort of a mentor to the young kid. In her role, Johansson is the light and possibility of the piece and instils in Jojo a desire for love and life, while also trying to push him away from his Nazi ways out of complete love for her son. Rockwell on the other hand as Captain Klenzendorf or Captain K as he’s called by his camp charges is an oafish, fool-like character who soon turns out to be a far more capable individual and who sees the larger picture at hand. Rockwell always endears himself within every performance he gives and he shines brightly here and audiences will just love the humour and kookiness that he brings to the part.
But it wouldn’t be Jojo Rabbit without us addressing the elephant in the room and yes I’m referring to director Taika Waititi’s performance here as a man called Adolf….and it is brilliant! As Jojo’s imagery best friend, Adolf is a complete buffoon who possess the mind of a 10-year-old and who completely steals every scene he’s in. Completely zany and flying in out of left field, Waititi’s Adolf is a rather idiotic conscience for Jojo and he plays a crucial part in the film’s events as the story unfolds. Waititi goes all out here and Jojo Rabbit is all the more amazing because of his onscreen presence. And for a director who wanted to rip apart everything that Hitler stood for, well, he does one hell of a good job in completing that mission through this portrayal.
Thematically Jojo Rabbit operates on several very different levels and its canvas is far larger than I thought it would have been. This is a piece of deep cinematic thinking, and its messages and use of visual symbology is incredibly affecting to its audience here. This is Waititi’s deepest film to date and you can’t help but be moved by its events. It carries with it a strong message related to love, acceptance, tolerance and the power of freedom and in the tumultuous era that we now live in its narrative statements couldn’t be more powerful.
Jojo Rabbit is an incredibly brave film to make and it’s a piece of cinema that truly speaks to its audience. It is destined to become a cinema classic and in my opinion, stands as the most important film released this year thanks to the power of its craftsmanship and the beauty and sincerity of its message. Those who attend it are certain to be moved by its narrative and it’s an utterly special experience that you won’t soon forget. See it now.
Image: 20th Century Fox