Jojo Rabbit (film review)

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stars

I got to watch Jojo Rabbit with a group of friends – and it’s the best film I’ve seen lately. The reactions I’ve heard/seen from some friends have been somewhat mixed – but I certainly loved it. Simply put, Jojo Rabbit a melodrama wrestling with deep, dark questions of nationalism, hate, and compassion through the eyes of a 10 year old boy growing up. As a viewer you laugh, ache, and then dance – what could be better?

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This film reminded me of the novel All the Light We Cannot See, which also tells of young boys training to be Nazis. But whereas the novel is gritty and dark even its beautiful prose, Jojo Rabbit is lighthearted and hilarious while delving into many of the same spaces. It kept occurring to me that this movie was so good, so special, because everything was seen through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. The Nazi training scenes are shot in a montage that makes it look like a summer camp, and that’s what it is for Jojo, a boy trying to become a good Nazi like he ought to. In his endeavor to become a boy the fuhrer would be proud of, Jojo is accompanied by his imaginary friend who is none other than Adolf Hitler himself (played by director  Taika Waititi). I promise it’s a version of Hitler you’ve never seen.

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This film is also about a kid growing up, losing innocence, getting broken. Jojo gets picked on, has a best friend, and falls in love – all in the space of a World War II German city. I’ve always been drawn to stories about boys figuring out how to grow up, trying to understand why life is turning their good world upside down. For me, Jojo Rabbit is reminiscent me of some of my other favorite coming-of-age stories (Bridge to Terabithia, Boyhood, Almost Famous, Holes). And it’s so effective at portraying how the world looks to a young boy, yet as a viewer we’re allowed to see more than Jojo does – we see what’s really at stake – but all through his eyes. The war scenes are confusing, like they would be for a kid: one minute your running for your life, then you bump into an old friend, you can’t tell where the enemy is coming from, the camera’s eyes aren’t “tall enough” to show us what we’d expect to see.

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I think the most powerful element is the tangible tensions we have to hold when we see a cute, blonde 10 year old embodying Nazism which we “know” is always evil. When we see a mother loving her son but giving him the freedom and space to work out his nationalism and morality. When we see a German officer giving his life for a traitor. This film is about things not being as obvious as they seem, wrestling through that, and growing up – and it does so through the eyes of a kid with an imaginary friend.

Simply brilliant. 4.5 stars from me.

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