Jojo Rabbit, based on Christine Leunens’ book Caging Skies, tells the story of a young boy in Nazi Germany who finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic and undergoes a crisis of faith in Nazism. Touching and funny, Jojo Rabbit explores the darkness of war and the depth of struggle experienced by those on the front lines of it.
Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old living in Nazi Germany during World War II with his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). Jojo and Rosie are on their own, as his father is serving in Italy and older sister, Inga, recently passed away from influenza. Jojo often speaks with his imaginary friend, a lighthearted version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also wrote the screenplay and directed).
Jojo and his best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates), are both active in the Hitler Youth, attending a training camp run by the idiotic Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). When Jojo is ordered to slay a rabbit, he is unable to do so and instead tries to release it. Others subsequently kill the rabbit, and he tearfully runs away as the boys tease him with the moniker “Jojo Rabbit.”
After an encouraging conversation with Adolf, Jojo returns and hurriedly throws a grenade. It bounces off a tree and lands right at his feet, leaving him injured but alive with scars and a slight limp. Upon his partial recovery (he still has scars and a limp), Jojo is given smallish tasks like posting propaganda posters around town. While alone at home one day, Jojo hears noises upstairs and goes to investigate. He discovers Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a teenage Jewish girl.
Jojo, a firm believer in Nazism, threatens to report her to the Gestapo. Elsa warns against it. Jojo agrees to keep the secret, but only if she reveals “Jew secrets” so he can write a book as a gift to Adolf. Elsa goes along and makes up fantastical stories about Jewish powers.
Jojo Rabbit is very well-done, keeping a healthy balance of hilarity and sadness. You go from laughing to crying in a matter of moments. Waititi’s Hitler is particularly amusing, and Davis turned in a strong performance as a young boy surrounded by absolute chaos and dysfunction, absolutely shining in every scene.
I give Jojo Rabbit four out of five stars.