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  • Writer's pictureTyler Miller

Legacy Review 1: Jojo Rabbit

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

JoJo Rabbit (Submitted by Tyler Miller, originally written 3/6/2020)

Nazi satire is certainly nothing new in the realm of film, practically as old as the Third Reich itself. From the portrayal of Nazi incompetence to the multiple outlandish depictions of Hitler ranging from ridiculous oaf to completely insane always-on hothead (this end perhaps closer to reality), the window of original World War II movies framed in lighthearted, satirical light is certainly much smaller than ‘easier’ cinematic ideas.

However, director Taika Waititi takes this very task head-on in the creation of Jojo Rabbit (based on Christine Leunen’s book Caging Skies), and creates something unlike all others in the best way. Following the ten-year-old life of Johannes Betzler played by child actor Roman Davis, better known by his nickname ‘Jojo’, as he lives through life in Nazi Germany as the war reaches its precipice, the audience is provided the view of a young boy with the same dreams of American boys of the same era: to live and perhaps die for one’s own country in battle. Jojo finds himself infatuated with the Nazi way, all the way to the extent of the creation of an imaginary friend in Adolf Hitler himself, in which the vast wickedness of the true figure is largely replaced with childish docility. All is well with young Jojo’s fanaticism in the beginning of the story, even despite a rather humiliating attendance of a Hitler Youth camp, in which Nazi life first becomes disillusioning. Conflict nearly immediately arises however, upon the discovery that his beloved mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is hiding the worst, most dangerous secret a German can keep. In their attic lives a young Jewish girl. Problems naturally arise, and the mask of the Fuhrer progressively slips off, both figuratively and literally as the fantasy-Hitler gradually transforms into the real-deal monster.

Waititi goes into this role with a disconnected air from a more rehearsed ‘real-Hitler’ portrayal to a more childish interpretation. Admittedly, the goofy, childish imaginary Hitler in this film initially takes on this air of tone-deafness, lasting at least the span of half the film, however remaining appropriate for the vision of a ten-year-old. In this, I would state that this character functions as the weakest point of the entire story. This character becomes somewhat annoying quickly, always popping up to childishly present Jojo with generally useless advice that mostly goes ignored anyways. However, in the grand scheme of the film, this character comes full circle, with Jojo coming to the same conclusion as the audience. “Fuck off, Hitler”.

Overall, this film depicts a truly unique perspective of World War II through the lens of a ten-year-old boy and his lone mother. Boyishness and the purity of youth are pitted in stark opposition to the relentless war-machine that tore families apart the world over. Jojo is perfectly utilized as the main character, facing off between his childish dreams and his conscious in the face of actual human injustice. This is mostly a non-conflict in adults, but in a child this becomes a significant decision to make, and the audience is guided through this difficult decision in that same point-of-view. This would not be nearly as engaging, or even possible if it wasn’t for Jojo’s free-spirit mother, Rosie. Johansson’s depiction of this wonderful German mother with a rebellious secret and an incredible love for her son is in itself one of the greatest highlights in the entire film. Quirkiness and true love bind this character to the audience almost immediately upon her introduction within the film. Her rationale for putting herself and her son at mortal risk to save a young Jewish girl from certain death ins well laid out, and go on to further develop Jojo’s character, her soldier husband, and even the strangely likeable weirdo, Captain Klenzendorf (played by Sam Rockwell). Scarlett Johansson plays this character well, with none of the love and adventure of Rosie ‘feeling’ inauthentic at any point. This character is well acted, and well written throughout. The same stands true for a real shocker of a performance by the lead, Roman Griffin Davis in his first film appearance. Roman brings the childhood innocence, immature frustration and boyish daydreaming perfectly, naturally forward for this performance in a way that is virtually unheard of with child-actors. His accent may be inescapably English, which presents rather distractingly at first, but that is the only significant flaw in this performance that truly stood out. For a breakout performance, especially for a real-life 13 year old, this is perhaps as good as it gets. Not a moment lacks confidence or believability, and Roman attributes this to Johansson in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, who as a former child actor and mother herself, was said to have helped with Roman’s air of seasoned professionalism.

As far as weak characters go, this film is sparse, but not absent. Again, Waititi’s Hitler comes off as excessively childish and rather annoying to slight detriment of the film. But further, Rebel Wilson’s Fraulein Rahm finds herself inflicted by Rebel’s typical obnoxious, often flat-falling humor which does not blend well with her Nazi co-workers, Klenzendorf (Rockwell) and Finkel (played by Alfie Allen). This over-the-top persona does not find itself compatible with her surrounding characters, heavily distracting from the scene. Other than this, the characters in Jojo Rabbit find themselves well woven together into a (fairly satirical) landscape of early ‘40s Germany.

All in all, this film exceeds expectations as an already well-anticipated and received project. With a staggering in production time, Waititi’s 2011 project turned film in 2019 avoids or otherwise omits modern political cliché, and generally never comes off as preachy to the moviegoer. Waititi delivers, despite the intimidating shadows of the greats who came before him in this vein of cinematic idea. Chaplin may have regretted his satirical Hitler role in the ‘30’s, but 80 years later, Waititi’s rendition hits the mark while still maintaining the reverence owed to the victims of Nazi terror, of which no second guessing is justified. Well done overall, from deftly executed satire that keeps the audience chuckling, to the moments that break the audience’s heart, Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a must-see.

Works Cited

“Director Taika Waititi On 'Jojo Rabbit'.” NPR, NPR, 18 Oct. 2019,

Gaskill, Matthew. “Charlie Chaplin's Timeless Appeal for Peace in the WWII Satire ‘The Great Dictator.’” The Vintage News, 4 Nov. 2018,

-Roman Interview with Rotten Tomatoes-

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