Oscar-nominated ‘Jojo Rabbit’ depicts WWII through a child’s eyes
How a child sees the world can reveal what the rest of us should observe. What a child may discover, through eyes of wonder, can offer views free from bias, released from habit and removed from routine. And from this, because of this, all of us can learn.
The splendid comedy “Jojo Rabbit” dares to take a serious chapter in world history - when Hitler tried to take over the world - and, rather than dwell on tragedy, chooses to celebrate how one child sees the goodness and hope in events filled with sadness and despair. Rather than simply tell a story of a young boy in a village under Nazi control during World War II, the film looks at a series of exaggerated events through this child’s sense of awe. And, through his eyes, we all learn how we can make any world a better place.
Jojo is a 10-year-old boy who likes many things favored by other boys his age. This young man likes to play with friends, to be outside, and to spend time with his mother. And, unlike his buddies in this small village, he likes to share secret conversations with Adolph Hitler. You see, the war is starting to wind down, and the leader needs some advice. So Hitler constantly visits Jojo, offering cigarettes, making suggestions and articulating views. Whether or not these conversations actually happen is beside the point. For Jojo, his friendship with Hitler is quite real. And this movie is, after all, a view of a complicated world through his 10-year-old eyes.
From conversations with Hitler, experiences with friends and observations in the village, Jojo quickly absorbs the complexities of war and how people must deal with its consequences. A trip to a summer youth camp becomes a challenge when Jojo cannot physically compete. A surprise discovery in his house leads the boy to learn a deep secret his mother hides. A needy visitor becomes a focal point for Jojo to reflect and question. And the events of war take over a world this innocent child just begins to grasp.
Does all this sound too serious for a comedy? Actually, no. “Jojo Rabbit” is filled with laughter. What makes film so irresistible is the human approach that filmmaker Taika Waititi brings to such irreverent material. Instead of following a traditional approach to telling such a story, the writer/director lets the absurdity of the situations frame the action and set the tone. No matter how real the movie can feel at times, Waititi reminds us we are watching an interpretation of the horrific. Not the actual horror.
All this gives actors wondrous opportunities to shine. Roman Griffin Davis balances a child’s curiosity with an adult’s sense of reason in a performance filled with spontaneous surprise. Scarlett Johansson is deservedly Oscar nominated for her warm portrayal of a mother bringing a precise sense of humor and a strong commitment to her world. And Sam Rockwell again grounds an exaggerated portrayal with integrity.
Nutritional Value: "Jojo Rabbit"
Content: High. This exaggerated look at what can happen during war delivers a stylized and entertaining look at how people cope with the best and worst of times.
Entertainment: High. Child wonder Roman Griffin Davis, in an outrageous interpretation of a young boy during World War II, has great fun reinventing a chapter in world history.
Message: High. Through all the exaggerated situations, writer/director Waititi never loses focus on the heart of the story and the humanity of the characters.
Relevance: Medium. Anyone who loves world history, and experiencing a slightly different take on leaders, will find the backstory to this moment in history an entertaining watch.
Opportunity for Dialogue: History. For history lovers, there will be a lot to discuss. And the film can prompt thoughtful discussion about bravery during war.
Yes, as adults, we often see our world in different ways than what a child may discover. Thanks to “Jojo Rabbit,” the world of World War II may never look quite the same.
“Jojo Rabbit” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence and language. The film runs 1 hour, 48 minutes, and is returning to area theaters after receiving six Oscar nominations.