“Jojo Rabbit” inspires self-criticism


Photo courtesy of FOX Studios.

Adisa Ozegovic, Media Manager

I often approach movies prepared with aggressive criticism. I focus on the technical and favor those with a flair for creativity and innovation. 

In my reviews, I have been overtly disapproving of movies I believed prioritized action (“Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood”) over cinematography and script-writing. I detested films that attempted to make generic social commentaries (“Joker”) while adoring those that have excelled in their direction and editing (“Parasite”). 

This article, I want to indulge in good storytelling regardless of technical and stylistic details. More importantly, I want to criticize critics and, more specifically, myself. 

Director Taika Watiti’s goal with “Jojo Rabbit” is to create a heartfelt comedy by satirizing Nazis, an ambition that is inherently difficult to produce considering the substantial consequences of the Holocaust. 

“Jojo Rabbit” is a comedy about Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a lonely German boy who is eager to join Hitler’s youth subset of the Nazi party. However, Jojo soon discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl within their house, and his loyalty to Hitler, who has coincidentally become a positive imaginary friend of his, and his mother are called into question. 

This is a film that necessitates taunts of the German nationalist ideology, yet the provocative, deadpan humor failed numerous times. Fraulein Rahm’s (Rebel Wilson) jokes about multiple pregnancies, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his flamboyant costume design, and Finkel’s (Alfie Allen) geeky demeanor rarely made me laugh. Only Watiti himself, playing Hitler, succeeded at being humorous, a result of his extravagant childlike demeanor. 

But, in the areas where the film failed to be funny, it succeeded in being heart-warming and powerful.

Jojo is a young boy, experiencing the effects of loneliness and isolation, as he navigates an identity for himself. He wants to belong to something; he wants to become someone, preferably a famous Nazi who can stand against the taunts of his peers through his intimate relationship to Hitler. Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman whose religious identity is being deliberately targeted as she, too, struggles to develop into a young adult and woman. 

The crossing of these two struggling paths is beautiful. Their interactions are powerful, vulnerable, and dramatic. Elsa describes ridiculous ideas about being Jewish to Jojo as he scribbles them into a biopic about the German Jew. Jojo writes love letters to Elsa pretending to be her dead boyfriend. Jojo threatens Elsa after his mother dies; Elsa holds a knife to Jojo’s throat and forces him into submission. 

The pair grow together as World War II wages on in the middle of a populated German city. At the end, they dance together, liberated, to German David Bowie. 

I cried when the credits played. Not because the movie was anything spectacular, but because Watiti somehow managed to smuggle himself into my heart. 

It is critical to note that my criticisms, and criticisms generally, are subjective in nature. While analyses are often perceived to be rational, they are incredibly opinionated and emotional. While I have had numerous and wide-ranging criticisms, it is important to bear in mind that any movie that excites some degree of feeling succeeds, for that is the essential requirement for good storytelling: emotion. 

The important thing about movies is the experience you have. The technical and creative aspects are secondary.