Jojo Rabbit Answers the Question: Can Nazis be Funny?


Kimberley French

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in the film JOJO RABBIT. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Claire Killian

Jojo Rabbit, written and directed by Taika Waititi, released October 18th, but only started showing in AMC theaters this past Friday. The comedy, which is set towards the end of WWII in Berlin walks the knife’s edge of political incorrectness. Despite the gambles taken, Jojo Rabbit succeeds in being a devastatingly funny movie, while portraying the sharp reality of Nazi Germany. Based on Christine Leunens book, Caging Skies, Jojo Rabbit goes where few films have gone before, in a valiant, and overwhelmingly successful effort to make Nazis funny, while not losing any of their brutality.

The movie follows the life of 10 year old Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), nicknamed Jojo Rabbit by his peers for his unwillingness to kill, who’s childhood is takes place as war rages on in the background, and rise of Nazism. He views Hitler as an infallible leader, but also almost as a pop-culture icon, his room is decorated with posters of him and Jojo aspires to one day be a member of his personal guard. This obsession becomes comical when Hitler (played by Taika Waititi, who is Jewish) makes his on-screen appearance as Jojo’s imaginary friend. While this may sound rather dramatic, this version of Hitler is a hilarious parody of the real one. Their dynamic is ridiculous and absurd, but it works, and audiences will find themselves wishing they had more screen time together.

This unquestioned devotion to the Reich is not echoed by Jojo’s mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who is, unbeknownst to Jojo, a member of the resistance. Rosie is so full of life, and of love, which constantly contrasts against her son, who lives almost exclusively to serve Hitler. As Jojo finds out, Rosie is also hiding a Jewish girl in his deceased sister’s room. This intimate tension, and secrecy between mother and child, is one of those more holistic moments in the movie, where you take into scope how thorough this regime was, driving divides between families and effectively brainwashing young children.

The alternating juxtaposition and blending of the struggles of a ten year old boy, and that of the German nation helps to add somber notes of realism into this otherwise comical film. This is not just another WWII movie, or another holocaust movie. Jojo Rabbit focuses more on the impact of war on children, which is most beautifully executed in the final battle scene, the Battle for Berlin, where boys as young as ten are handed weapons and thrown into a battle to the death against encroaching allied forces. This movie accurately, and jarringly, details the weaponization of the youth by Nazi Germany, and how effective they were in doing so. Despite being the type of movie which makes you double over laughing, their are moments when you are shocked into silence.

As depressing as that may sound, and as powerful as some scenes are, Jojo Rabbit is first and foremost a comedy. Jojo’s best friend, Yorki, is played by the endlessly hilarious Archie Yates. Yorki is another boy thrust willingly into the war, and who’s deadpan comments never fail to make the audience laugh. Rebel Wilson’s character, Fraulein Rahm, is pure comic relief, as she is the sole voice of what it was like for women in the Reich. She does not have a big role, but every time she is on screen you can be sure that you will be left crying from laughing so hard. The comedy of this movie is one of sarcastic irony. Waititi doesn’t take it upon himself to explain to his audience why Nazis are bad, they should already know that, but he does use history to his advantage when retelling these stories, and mercilessly mocks both Hitler personally, and the regime as a whole.

Jojo Rabbit is a daring new approach to a story which is simultaneously told too much, and never enough. It is a lighthearted take on a heavy issue, which somehow manages to come out winning. This is perhaps the only time where one will hear the words Heil Hitler and giggle. You will leave the theater in tears, though whether they are from laughing or crying you may not know.