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Read: Jojo Rabbit is a comedy and a warning

The passage of time tends to blunt the emotional intensity of war and tragedy, and for those of us born long after the Second World War, it can seem as though it and the Holocaust are no longer really relevant now.

Yet, humanity is still at war with itself and prejudice has not vanished. 

I think that is the central theme of Jojo Rabbit, the new film by Taika Waititi. It’s billed as a black comedy, and it certainly delivers the laughs, but it is also morality tale.

The story concerns a boy called Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davies) who lives in Nazi Germany towards the end of World War Two. He is a bit of an oddity, who has Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) as an invisible friend. He lives with his mother and he hates the Jewish race. 

Eager to prove himself a loyal Aryan, he has joined the Hitler Youth and is enthusiastic about taking on the enemies of the Führer. 

Of course, thats not the real Jojo. He is actually tenderhearted and hates violence, but with his father away fighting, he is desperate to find his place in the world. 

When he discovers a young Jewish teenager living in the eaves of his house and that his own mother is protecting her, the illusion of his secure place in the world is shattered. 

This is a comedy and the cast produce some excellent performances and comedic moments. But there are also deeply moving and tender moments as well as some genuine shocks that remind us that while a satire, it is also at about tragedy and war.

Waititi’s depiction of Hitler is pretty spot on, cleverly showing the leader’s desire for power and also his deep insecurity and insanity. 

In one scene, Hitler loses the plot and descends into a neurotic rant. If you look at old footage of Hitler at some rallies, this is pretty much what he was like. It is curious then that he seemed to engender such loyalty and fervour in his supporters, when what came out of his mouth was often quite bizarre. 

But then there are parallels to our own time and I think that is exactly what Waititi wants us to understand. 

The brilliance of this film is that it tackles prejudice not only with mockery, but also by reflecting back the rank stupidity and hyperbole prejudices are built on. 

Jojo has never met anyone Jewish and yet he faithfully regurgitates every vile and outlandish thing he has heard about Jewish people. When articulated by an innocent ten-year-old boy we see the insults for what they really are: crude and disgusting caricatures and stereotypes that bear no relationship to real people. 

Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, but it’s also a warning that we live in a time of renewed populism. The last time that happened millions of people lost their lives.

JOJO RABBIT 

In New Zealand Cinemas 24th November 2019

108 Minutes

Starring:  Roman Griffin Davis, Thomas McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson 

Director: Taika Waititi

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