“Jojo Rabbit” is a heartfelt story in an unlikely place


Bryan Vomacka

An image from the movie Jojo Rabbit
“Jojo Rabbit” is the story of a 10-year-old boy and his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler. Photo courtesy of The New Yorker.

Last week, the stress of school, work, an internship and a myriad of things happening in my personal life all came crashing down on me. I was overwhelmed and more than anything else I just wanted to go see a movie.

As it turns out, “Jojo Rabbit,” the story of a 10-year-old aspiring Nazi and his imaginary friend, a bumbling, idiotic version of Adolf Hitler, was exactly the movie I needed to see.

That is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type out, but then again, I never thought I’d see a movie quite like “Jojo Rabbit.”

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to fit in somewhere. Unfortunately, he is growing up in Nazi Germany and has fallen victim to their propaganda.

The film opens on a big day in Jojo’s life, his first day of Nazi soldier camp. He is looking in the mirror, trying to convince himself that he is ready to become a Nazi. His imaginary friend Adolf Hitler appears to support him. Director/writer Taika Waititi plays the character as a 10-year-old’s idea of Hitler and it’s incredibly funny.

After encouraging Jojo, the scene ends with both characters excitedly yelling “Heil Hitler” at each other. It’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity of a young boy and a grown man jumping up and down while yelling Nazi salutes. Waititi’s script is packed full of jokes and gags that show just how ridiculous Nazism is.

While the film is hilarious, it also knows when to take the subject matter seriously. This is the story of a boy who wanted to fit in and, with nowhere else to turn, embraced the false promises of fascism.

Scarlett Johansson plays Jojo’s mother Rosie and it is through her that we see how sad Jojo’s fanaticism is. Johansson is excellent as a single parent struggling to keep it together in the face of a war she doesn’t agree with and a son she struggles to recognize. A scene in which she pretends to be Jojo’s father is one of the film’s most heartfelt moments.

Unknown to Jojo, his mother is part of secret resistance to the Nazi army. One day he discovers that she is sheltering a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

McKenzie gives the best performance in the film. There is a fierceness in her gaze and she shows intelligence beyond her years.

“You’ve lived more lives than most,” Rosie tells Elsa, to which she promptly corrects, “I haven’t lived at all.”

An image from the film Jojo Rabbit showing the characters Elsa and Jojo
“Jojo Rabbit” revolves around the friendship of Elsa and Jojo. Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

At first, Jojo is horrified that the enemy is living in his house, but his worldview, influenced by the Nazis for so long, slowly begins to change. How can Elsa be the enemy when his own mother is protecting her?

Watching Elsa and Jojo grow closer together is a treat. More than anything else, “Jojo Rabbit” shows us that small moments of human interaction define who we are and how we think.

The relationship between Elsa and Jojo becomes the heart of the film. Jojo likes her so much that not even Hitler can convince him not to.

“Jojo Rabbit” is a loud, bombastic film that mocks Nazism at every chance it can. It is full of heart and an important reminder that in the worst moments of life, we must continue to fight and live.

At the end of the film, with a new perspective on life, Jojo looks in the mirror again and tells himself, “Today, just do what you can,”