At first glance, the film Jojo Rabbit, by director Taika Waititi, may seem like a whimsical look at life inside the crumbling Third Reich during the closing months of World War II. It partially is, but don’t let that fool you. The film tackles serious subject matter. In my opinion, nothing I’ve read or seen before does a better job of illustrating Hitler’s charismatic grip on Germany.
Without giving too much of the film’s plot away, the world we see through the eyes of ten-year-old Hitler Youth member, Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), is warped by a lifetime of Nazi propaganda. In the opening scene, Waititi intersperses live action with archival footage of Nazi rallies, juxtaposed with the German version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand." The two sync up seamlessly, and the footage looks eerily similar to actual “Beatlemania” footage from the 1960s.
.... And then it kind of hits you: the screaming, weeping, and frenzied youth seen in the footage aren’t watching a performance by the Fab Four, they’re watching Hitler.
From the very beginning, it becomes clear that the malleable minds of Jojo, and the children of Germany, stand little chance against the state propaganda machine. They have almost no hope of becoming anything other than little Nazis. Membership in the Hitler Youth, the paramilitary organization that replaced the Boy Scout movement in Germany in 1935, was a requirement for boys aged ten and up. Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), Jojo’s mother, walks a tightrope between protecting and holding on to her little boy, while defying the Nazi state by hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl in their attic. The local head of the Hitler Youth office, Captain “K” (Sam Rockwell), a wounded army officer and subversive enemy of the state himself—who clearly sees the handwriting on the wall for Germany—has Jojo’s best interest at heart as well.
Throughout the film, Jojo wrestles with the Nazi ideology that has been forced upon him. These scenes are cleverly facilitated by conversations with Jojo’s imaginary friend, a cartoonish version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). The costumes and set design are on point, and the performances by the cast are absolutely stellar. In my opinion, Jojo Rabbit does a brilliant job of conveying the consequences of the ideological poisoning of Germany’s youth culture during the thirties and forties by the Nazi Regime, and reminds us that the most tragic victims of the war, regardless of nationality, were the children. I highly recommend seeing it.