The story appears on

Page A5

October 27, 2019

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sunday » Film

Black comedy at heart of ‘Jojo Rabbit’

“OH good, another Hitler comedy! It’s been too long,” said no studio development executive, ever. But of course, absurd as the idea may seem, some attempts to wring humor from the horrors of Nazi Germany have stood the test of time: Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not To Be,” Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” and Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” to name a few.

Now comes the boldly, unabashedly quirky “Jojo Rabbit” by New Zealand director Taika Waititi. Waititi said, “Now, especially now, is the time to remind younger generations of what happened more than 70 years ago. And what better tool, as Brooks has posited, than humor?”

Whether you agree or not it helps to know where the director is coming from, personally. He is both Jewish, through his mother, and Maori, through his father. He has spoken of experiencing prejudice as a child, and says he’s always been interested in stories told through the eyes of children.

That’s exactly what he does in “Jojo Rabbit,” which, though it features high-profile names like Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell, is anchored by a hugely sympathetic young actor, Roman Griffin Davis, as a 10-year-old boy trying to be the very best Nazi he can.

It’s hard to believe this is young Roman’s film debut. He manages to exude both a youthful whimsy and a sense of aplomb that belies his age.

We meet Jojo toward the end of the war, in the fictional town of Falkenheim. (The film is based on the 2004 novel “Caging Skies,” by Christine Leunen.) He lives with his mother, Rosie (Johansson), a spunky and radiant free spirit with, we will learn, a major secret. But really, Jojo lives with Adolf Hitler.

Yes, Hitler is his imaginary friend, sort of his Nazi life coach, as the young boy prepares to don his uniform and join the Jungvolk of the Hitler Youth. Hitler is played by Waititi as more of a benignly goofy, gangly misfit than, well, the real thing. At training camp, Jojo’s commander is the thickheaded Captain Klenzendorf (Rockwell), aided by his equally misguided assistants, Finkel and Fraulein Rahm.

Jojo is ordered to demonstrate his Nazi credentials by wringing the neck of a rabbit. He can’t bring himself to kill the poor thing, and runs away humiliated.

He tries to redeem himself, but soon he’ll face an even more shocking challenge. In a closet, he discovers that his own mother has been secretly harboring his worst enemy, the villain he’s been taught to despise above all others: the Jew. Only this one’s name is Elsa, and she’s young and beautiful. And he can’t find her horns, or any signs of evil powers.

Jojo’s first instinct is to alert the Nazis about Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). But he soon realizes he and his mother would likely be killed, too. And so he slowly gets to know her.

Where does the Queen Jew lay her eggs, he asks? Do you live in caves? Sometimes, she allows, “We hang from the ceiling.” Gradually, the two become closer. Elsa tries to get Jojo to realize he’s not really a Nazi — just a 10 year-old “who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”

Is it now, or ever, a good time for a Nazi-themed comedy? That’s as difficult a question to answer as it ever was.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend