The latest release from multi-talented director/writer/actor Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, USA, 2019) makes profound the comical absurdity of the Nazi regime. Waititi’s adaptation, of the Christine Leunen novel Caging Skies, follows ten-year-old Hitler Youth member and Nazi enthusiast Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) as he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) from the authorities. Supporting him in his escapades Jojo is joined by his imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi). Although the latest released Waititi started the project years ago but had a hard time getting it through pre-production due to the content the film expresses so extrovertly. Explaining that he is “not a dramatic storyteller. So I read the book and thought this is a brilliant premise, brilliant situation but if I was to do the film the I’d put elements in there that make me more interested in coming to work.”
At the declaration of Nazis, Hitler Youth and Hitler himself being intertwined with comedy that purposefully exposes farcicality of the regime, many spectators may be put off before even viewing the film. However, the sensitive topic is handled with extreme delicacy and humour which complements contemporary views of the subject matter. Making absurd the atrocities committed by the Nazi party is by no means meant to offend individuals or aline the film in their political opinion; rather, the opposite. Take, for example, Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, USA, 1940) in which he plays the Hynkel, the Dictator of Tomania. Chaplin created the script while World War 2 was still in progress and not knowing the full extent of the Nazi’s barbaric acts he later stated he would “not have made fun of their homicidal insanity” if he had known. Leading to some viewers to discredit Chaplin’s humour as a method of healing. On the other hand, Waititi’s audience has an abundance of facts at their disposal; as well as precursory expectations of a film set in wartime. Therefore, in a similar fashion to Chaplin, he includes an emotional depth to the production in the form of moral redemption and the rediscovery of innocence by Jojo to engage the audience. Waititi’s comedic style and execution have matured since Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, USA, 2017) building in influence not only from Chaplin in his own performance as Hitler but also utilising Pythonian when satirising the greetings made to one another by the Gestapo (including a gratifying performance from Stephen Merchant). As well as Waititi’s presentation as Hitler, Roman Griffin Davis pulls off one of the most convincing child performances I’ve witnessed.
With Jojo Rabbit, Waititi pushes his cinematic and comedic brilliance further than ever before. Simultaneously, he makes subtle commentary on the contemporary political landscape. By comedically assessing the absurd of history Waititi enables the audience to reflect on the idiocy of modern political culture and its effects on society.