Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi, 2019) – Ten-year-old Johannes, who serves in the Hitler Youth, discovers a Jewish girl hiding behind the walls of his home.


Fictionalising real life tragedies has its risks. The slightest bit of fantasy can seem misplaced or at worst, irreverent. Even dramatised versions of the truth, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, have been called exploitative. What more for those who attempt humour against the backdrop of a towering death toll?

That in mind, Jojo Rabbit comes off as the work of a madman. It opens with a ten-year-old Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), shouting on about his allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Taika Waititi responds with exaggerated impressions and funny faces, decked up in full Nazi wear as Hitler himself and imaginary friend to the young nationalist.

Is it ever okay to joke about the Nazis? It feels just a little inappropriate to smile. Somehow, the satire manages to find a way to balance dark humour and difficult sensitivities. Every bit of mockery is aimed at the people, behaviour, and ideology who deserve it the most. The result is absurd, charming, sad, and moving all at once.

Jojo Rabbit
Worst summer camp, ever.

Seen through the perspective of a youth nationalist, the world of Jojo Rabbit is daringly vibrant, never dreary or sad. There is no hunger or hiding. People are dressed in high fashion on the street and untainted uniforms in camp. When Jojo meets the Hitlerjugend staffers, commander Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) even seem kind of quirky.

It is an audaciously light take on one of the darkest chapters of history, allowing guarded feelings to fall away for a while. That is before the first gut punch lands – in Jojo’s near-fatal accident. The offbeat tonality never meant that this was all play. It was still a real war with consequences.

Jojo Rabbit
In case his feelings weren’t clear.

The second hit of reality strikes when Jojo discovers a Jewish girl Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his home; war has its victims, too. Here, the story shows how his irrational fear manifests and would have been dangerously violent, if not for his age and innocence. There is also a fundamental kindness in him, unable to kill on command in camp.

Yet the boy had truly believed he was on the right side of the war. He placed Hitler above his own life, believed in ridiculous notions about Jewish people, and argued with his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) on what loyalty meant. The accident that kept him away from der Hitlerjugend gave him a second chance to learn the truth, so that he can unlearn the lies.

His journey bears gravitas despite the jokes between, never shying away from the horror of the atrocities in war time. It reflects upon the importance of listening to whom we may not always agree with and accepting our differences. Not every child was given the chance as Jojo did. But this anti-war narrative comes as a timely reminder for the generations from here on to have the courage in saying, “Never again.”

Taika Waititi pulls off a tragicomedy that is in equal parts provocative and evocative, its only offence towards the war criminals that deserved it the most.

29 thoughts on “Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)”

  1. I think the key thing about the film is that it always punches upwards – as you say, the right people and ideas are mocked. I love the way he manages to use the comedy to make us think, rather than just laughing along. Absolutely one of my favourite films, it’s subtle and clever in equal measure, in spite of its quite vibrant and ridiculous turns!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this movie. To me, it’s great commentary on the family unit and what happens when the State replaces it (my opinion, of course). The dinner table scene when Scarlett pretends to be Jojo’s father managed to be both silly and emotionally devastating. Great piece of cinema.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review, Jade. I thought the satire, poignancy and outright laughs were finely balanced and Johann’s character arc was believable. For all the laugh-out loud scenes, they were subdued by the moment when Johann comes face to face with the appalling consequences of what happens to you when you refuse to accept the shackles of a totalitarian society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! This is such a wonderfully written film, and I know exactly which moment you’re referring to. It is definitely one of the most powerful movie scenes in recent memory.


  4. Thanks for another great review. This movie looks hilarious, but part of me just can’t get past laughing about something so tragic. Especially when there’s hot spots all over the world that something like this will most likely happen again. However, that said, maybe part of the way to prevent it is to highlight the absurdity of it, and what better way than through humor? It makes us see the ridiculousness of it and hopefully guides us into not letting it happen again. I’ve laughed at movies about real life dictators (The Interview), dysfunctional parents (Instant Family), even Back to School Essentials by the Sandy Hook Promise. So I guess laughing at Hitler is okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tony! I felt the same way at first, and it’s especially uneasy given the current political climate. But somehow, Taika Waititi nailed the tone perfectly. Like you said, the humour brings out the absurdity of their antics and hate, and reminds us just how we never want to repeat that chapter again.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Taika Waititi’s films too, and it helps that he’s an absolute charmer. I haven’t seen Seven Beauties, but it seems well worth the time. Thank you for the recommendation!

      Liked by 1 person

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