Almost every time I get hyped up for a movie, I walk out disappointed—especially if the hype gets to me months before a movie comes out. I have all that time to marinate in my expectations, and I always imagine something much grander than what I get. When I heard that Taika Waititi, the beautiful mind behind "What We Do in the Shadows," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" and "Thor: Ragnarok," was making a satire about Nazis, I got unreasonably excited.
This time, however, "Jojo Rabbit" not only lived up to my expectations but exceeded them by being something completely different than what I imagined. The premise is simple: Jojo is a lonely 10-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany toward the end of WWII. His father is serving in Italy but is missing and his older sister has recently died of influenza. He lives with his incredibly kind mother, Rosie (a flawless Scarlett Johansson), but spends most of his time talking to his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi).
See, Jojo loves being a member of the Hitler Youth. He's fascinated by fascism, is terrified of Jewish people and basically looks at Hitler like he's a rockstar. If everything in life is predicated on love or fear, Jojo is a cute little ball of love being subsumed by his fear into being something he's not. He's been fully indoctrinated into a group of evil men and women, but he's still young enough to not be ruled by the hate and fear so prevalent in the Nazis.
This movie might not be enough for some people. Obviously, we still have a Nazi problem in 2019 and I'm a strong believer in punching Nazis in the face whenever given the opportunity, but "Jojo Rabbit" takes the complete-opposite approach. In the world of "Jojo Rabbit," Nazis are cartoonishly incompetent buffoons. They're nothing to be afraid of and, while there's something very satisfying about the "Inglourious Basterds" method of scalping Nazis and asking questions later, it's also immensely cathartic to defang them completely.
Within a single scene, I found myself uncontrollably laughing and crying because of how pure the film’s stance against hate and violence is.tweet this
When you make a megalomaniac feel or look small, it sends them into a rage that violence doesn't come close to touching. Look how angry Trump gets when people make fun of his baby hands. It doesn't matter if he has tiny hands or not; what counts is the foaming insecurity it creates in bullies. Waititi has empathy for every living soul in his films, Nazi or otherwise, because he fights against the dehumanization the Nazis hoped to instill in every man, woman and child.
Within a single scene, I found myself uncontrollably laughing and crying because of how pure the film's stance against hate and violence is. I've never seen such a confident tightrope walk between tones, as the script balances on a razor wire of hilarity and profound sadness and pathos. It's delightfully absurdist and does everything it can to get audiences to laugh directly in Hitler's face with cutting satire, reminiscent of "Dr. Strangelove" modulated by the warmth and tenderness of something like "Moonrise Kingdom."
Here's why "Jojo Rabbit" is important, not just in 2019 but for decades to come: it takes down the idea of prejudice itself and reduces it to an idea that seems woefully ridiculous, ignorant and dead. Our grandkids could watch this movie and be reminded of how absurd and terrifying life could be in less-enlightened times. The film looks to a better future even as it unforgivingly won't let us forget our past.
Our world has a history of hate, and "Jojo Rabbit" reminds us that without empathy, compassion and humor, we are doomed to remain mired in darkness. Waititi reaches out and appeals to the best in us, reminding us our collective humanity has the power to defeat hate while laughing at the tiny hands of the smallest men.
Dir. Taika Waititi
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Odem Theater Pub