I had the honor to watch a pre-release viewing of Jojo Rabbit at the San Diego International Film Festival on October 15th at the historic Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego.
Jojo Rabbit is based off of the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.
New Zealand filmmaker, Taika Waititi, exudes brilliance in his new film Jojo Rabbit.
Jojo Rabbit is directed by Taika Waititi, who is also featured in the film as Jojo’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Waititi acts nothing of Hitler, though. He is weak, unintelligent and completely irrational with a dash of hilariousness. The portrayal of Hitler is nothing short of satire calling out Hitler’s worst traits, which, I guess would be all of them.
The film follows the story of a young boy, Jojo ‘Rabbit’ Betzler, who prides himself on being a nationalist fanatic with a loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi party during World War II. Jojo’s views and ethics are challenged when he discovers his mother and father are working for the resistance and secretly housing a young Jewish girl in their home.
Jojo Rabbit is played by Roman Griffin Davis, an eleven year old from East Sussex. Davis is brand new to the industry with Jojo Rabbit being his debut performance. You would never guess it was his debut, as he played the role of Jojo flawlessly. It was as if the role was created for Davis and Davis only.
Jojo’s mother, Rosie Beltzer, is played by veteran actress, Scarlett Johansson. The motherly love shines through Johansson when handling difficult situations and conversations with her son. While she is aiding in the resistance of the Nazi party, her son, Jojo, could not be further from her stance.
Johansson mothers Jojo in a very creative and unique way. She is real and blunt with him, trying to shape him into a better human. In one scene, Jojo tries to discuss his issues with Jewish people and his infatuation with Hitler while at the dinner table. His mother responds that “the dinner table is Switzerland,” and that politics are not to be discussed at the dinner table.
While Johansson is a very important character in the story, she is punished for her work with the resistance party and for secretly housing the young Jewish girl. The incident sheds light on what was truly risked for those who chose to work against Hitler’s efforts.
Jojo’s father is spoken of, but never seen. His mother made him believe his father was a soldier fighting in the war, but never specified on which side. Jojo is shocked when he later learns his father was actively fighting in the war against Germany.
Elsa Korr, the young Jewish girl hiding in Jojo’s home is, played by Thomasin McKenzie, a New Zealand native. Elsa is a very dynamic character with a very important story to tell. She is uncomfortable in her circumstance, afraid for her life, and not-so-patiently waiting for the day she will be free again.
Elsa and Jojo’s friendship started off rocky, considering he was being taught in school how Jewish people were devil beings with horns and evil powers. She feeds into his imagination before letting her guard down and opening up about her true identity.
Jojo attends a Hitler’s Youth Camp, Bund deutscher Arbeiterjugend, to learn how to be a soldier in the war when he is old enough, while the young girls learned how to be nurses and give birth. His superior, Captain Klenzendorf, is played by Sam Rockwell. Captain K, as he is called, was demoted to running the camp from the German military because he lost an eye in battle. While Captain K seems like a tough guy, in the moments it matters most he is a decent human being fighting the silent fight. While not a member of the resistance, he has moments where his morals trump his Nationalist loyalty to Hitler and the Party.
Comedian actress, Rebel Wilson, plays the role of Fräulein Rahm, a brutish instructor who works along side Captain K at the Hitler’s Youth Camp. Her character doesn’t take on anything too deep, but is a supporting role to show what life was like for women in Germany during World War II. She prides herself on the fact she has birthed 18 children for her country. As usual, any role Rebel plays is expected to be amusing.
In the beginning, the movie seems to be focused on showing sympathy and understanding of those who associated with the Nazi party. About halfway through, the heaviness and moral side of the film sets in causing the plot to take a seemingly different path. While this film, and Taika Waititi’s direction, will not be everyones cup of tea, I urge you to allow Jojo Rabbit to show you comedy, tragedy, love and change in an era of hopelessness for humanity.
Jojo Rabbit opens in New York and Los Angeles theatres on Friday, October 18th. Additional cities will be added on November 1st, and the film will be nationwide on November 18th. Jojo Rabbit will be available internationally in January 2020. For more information on cities and about the show, visit http://www.foxsearchlight.com/jojorabbit/