A look at Jojo Rabbit (M)
I’m not averse to an occasional humorous take on a serious historical event so I was looking forward to Taika Waititi’s spoof movie. He’s very busy with this production. He directed the film and played the role of Adolf Hitler who’s 10-year-old Jojo’s imaginary friend and adviser, occasionally a bit gruff with the little lad. And as well Waititi had written the script which won him the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at this month‘s Academy Awards.
So why is Hitler involved anyway and in what era is the film set?
Well, it’s late in the second World War and Jojo Betzler is one of a few hundred boys and girls attending the Hitler youth camps. His chief instructor is Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) a drunken, would-be Wehrmacht warrior who’s lost an eye so is unfit and not battle-ready any longer.
In charge of the girls at the camp is Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) the mother of four children who brainwashes her charges into believing childbirth is their main purpose in life.
It’s when Klenzendorf brings a live rabbit, which looks more like a large hare, into the camp and instructs Jojo to wring its neck that the boy’s world starts to unravel. Unable to kill the animal he places the ‘rabbit’ on the ground where it is grabbed by one of Klenzendorf’s aides and killed.
Teased unmercifully by his comrades and nicknamed ‘Jojo Rabbit’ the boy decides to make a real go of it during hand grenade training.
Klenzendorf unleashes live grenade work into the boys’ schedule. Jojo tears off, with Hitler leaping along beside him, but unfortunately his grenade bounces off a tree and explodes with the boy ending up with a damaged leg and facial scars. So now Jojo is confined to his home. Mum Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) works hard during the day, but in secret she’s a devout anti-Fascist.
As he gradually recovers, Jojo and Hitler have many conversations about the war’s progress before the boy hears some clunking noises in the attic above his bedroom. Could there be someone in there? The answer is, of course, yes. Jojo levers open one of the wall panels with his Hitler Youth dagger and finds a teenage girl.
Rosie has provided refuge for 16-year-old Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) and gradually during Jojo’s recovery they have many conversations and become friends. Hitler is prominent all through this period constantly reminding Jojo that Jews are the enemies of the German people and he must give her up. Jojo‘s resolve is wavering until one day he’s with Mum Rosie as they walk through the town square.
Hanging from a wooden structure and swinging gently in the breeze are five dead bodies. “What did they do, mother,” the boy asks.
“They did what they could,” Rosie replies.
With no news or information about his absent father –we’re told he’s somewhere on a battlefield –Jojo determines to continue helping Elsa in spite of Hitler’s admonishments. And just as the war is reaching its ultimate climax Jojo’s worst nightmare is revealed. He sees a pair of laced, brightly coloured red shoes on the end of a body dangling from a noose. Although that’s all we see –the red shoes and the wearer’s ankles –Jojo knows it’s his mother, Rosie.
So when next Hitler appears in the family kitchen – after an incursion by five Gestapo officers – Jojo boots the Fuhrer out the window.
The Gestapo scenes are among the funniest, if also the most macabre, in the whole film.
Captain Deertz (Stephen Merchant) heads up the investigating team when suddenly Captain Klenzendorf appears as well. Elsa is standing in the kitchen when Deertz asks for her papers. She rummages around in a drawer, finds them and hands them over.
Although Klenzendorf can see that the birth date she recites is out by a week or so he nods to Deertz and hands Elsa back her papers. It’s a great little cameo from Merchant who towers over his four, fellow Gestapo officers and also Captain Klenzendorf, but is all smiles towards Elsa and Jojo.
Another great cameo is played by Jojo’s best friend Yorki (Archie Yates). He’d supported Jojo after the botched rabbit ‘execution’ and as the war comes to its inevitable conclusion Yorki is racing through their town, towing a rocket launcher on a wheeled trolley. He spies Jojo and says: “Our only Allies left are the Japanese. And they don’t look too Aryan to me.” Seconds later he drops the handle of the trolley, the impact makes the rocket take flight and it shatters a shop window down the street.
The Russians invade the town, Klenzendorf and Fraulein Rahm make their last suicidal charges, the five Gestapo officers are handcuffed and led away and Elsa is finally able to emerge from hiding and come out the front door.
Waititi has done a fine job mixing in a coming-of-age comedy, some of the horrors of the Nazi regime and ultimately a young boy’s acceptance (and protection, leading to love) of a person from another culture and ethnic background.
It’s a great little movie, tinged with sadness, but also with a lot of light-hearted moments throughout.