PG-13. At one point, Jojo says the f-word. I need to write that now because I will totally forget later on. Tonally, the movie is aimed for a wide audience. While I can't call a movie that is in the shadow of the Holocaust family-friendly, the movie wants people to watch it. There's blood and death, but death is important when talking about World War II. The biggest thing that gets people mad is how the movie treats Hitler like a joke. To these people, I have to scream as loud as I can, "Everyone's on the same side." You are meant to laugh at dark things here because it is insulting to Nazis. This is an example where you are meant to laugh AT the subject matter, not with the subject matter. It shines a light on racist buffoonery. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
This was the movie I wanted to watch in theaters oh-so-badly! I was preaching this movie. The trailer came out and I showed it to everyone. So how is it that I'm only writing about this movie right now? Well, life is very hard and my days are very busy. I know. I maintain a blog and I talk about media a lot. I clearly have some time. It just slipped away. But now that I've seen it, I have to decide: is Jojo Rabbit or Parasite my favorite movie for 2019?
I mean, I really like Parasite. I'm not going to undo that at all. When asked, I'll probably say Parasite because it completely knocked my socks off and it is coupled with having some pretty impressive street cred. But I've watched Jojo Rabbit twice and I liked it as much the second time. I'm not going to do that with Parasite. I'd like to think that I'll watch Parasite again, but I haven't really watched The Host a second time, despite the fact that it is sitting on my shelf right now gathering dust. (Don't throw my movies away, wife! I'd love to watch The Host with you.) The thing about Jojo Rabbit is that it is a helluva inviting movie. Parasite, tonally, while making me laugh for a good portion of the movie, never makes me guffaw. It isn't meant to. It hits a very appropriate tone quickly. I would not want to change that. But there's something about Taika Waititi's movies that seem fun enough to make you want to watch them again.
I've seen What We Do in the Shadows multiple times as well as Thor: Ragnarok. I love these movies. Both of these movies are perhaps on the goofier side of Waititi's art though. They are comedy for comedy's sake. I have no problem with that. Waititi is a master of the genre and these movies prove that he's at the forefront of his craft. But Jojo Rabbit takes the skills that he has cultivated with his other films and give the film a central message. And the way he pulls it off is by daring you to watch the film in the first place.
In the MPAA section, I commented on how people are hesitant to watch a movie about nazis as the protagonists. It seems like it is making light of the Holocaust. There are other films that make fun of the Holocaust, but it is important to know the origins of these movies because it kinda / sorta matters when it comes to talking about such a vulnerable subject matter. Mel Brooks was infamous for making jokes about Hitler. He, too, exemplified his craft. But with Brooks, he rarely took it to another level. His goal was either parody or farce, but rarely got into satire shy of Blazing Saddles, which really asked the audience to meet it where it was. Jojo Rabbit provides the funny as a way to develop a sense of vulnerability that many people are afraid to explore.
When Life is Beautiful came out, people flocked to see that movie. In a year where Parasite was the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, I can't help but flashback to when Roberto Benigni ran up on stage thinking that he had won the award. Life is Beautiful made people laugh at the love of a father while weeping at the indignities of concentration camps. It was a message of hope that allowed people to feel something different, yet vital while experiencing something profoundly sad. This is criminal that I'm writing this, but I can't help but make the parallel between salty and sweet. Often movies about darkness see how infinitely sad we can become. I think of movies like Schindler's List, that cinematically illustrated the cruelty and goodness within the hearts of man. I know that people comment on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as one of the saddest movies that they have ever seen. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's something else to be gained by both laughing and crying at the same time.
Laughter makes us fall in love. Jojo, as a Hitler youth, is oddly sympathetic. The movie starts off with this little kid spouting all of this racist filth, yet he still seems like a kid. It's hard to get mad at him because, from moment one, we understand that he doesn't completely get it. If the entire country can be brainwashed by Hitler, it's not surprising that a ten-year-old boy, too, can be a member of the master race. What Waititi does, and I applaud him for it, is normalize racism. By showing that Jojo and the people around him think that they are in the right, we understand that when that shift happens, there's something important going on in that moment. It's not a bad guy becoming a good guy. Movies have taught us that bad guys become good guys and that's okay. (Ben Solo and his Good Boy Sweater). Instead, Jojo is at an age where not a lot of things make sense. He starts to see the world through a different lens. The fun of childhood and irresponsibility have faded away.
Because all that laughter and good times is because he only cared about himself. He's never fully evil. He says awful things and does even worse, but he has no idea the impact that his choices have on him. It's only when he experiences sacrifice on the part of his mother that things start to really make sense for him. And that's when the tears happen. It's because we spent so much time laughing that we realize the horrors of what is happening around him. Like Jojo, this tragedy comes out of nowhere and it is truly painful. I know that I'm deep diving into the "why" of laughter right now, but I don't think I've had a moment cinematically like Jojo seeing his mother's shoes. Waititi keeps planting that seed subtly throughout the film. The shoes. Those shoes instantly became iconic for me and they meant so darn much. If Schindler's List had the red coat, Jojo Rabbit has mother's shoes.
When we cry after laughing so much, those tears mean so much more. With sad movies, we steel ourselves to sadness. We cry in spite of attempts otherwise. But with laughter, we aren't prepped. That vulnerability means all that much more than going into a sad movie. And the movie needs to be sad. People's criticisms would be accurate if there was no sadness in this movie. It's kind of why I have a hard time revisiting the works of Mel Brooks. I enjoy Mel Brooks and I thank him for all the great things that he has done. But it's films like Jojo Rabbit that are going to stick with me long afterwards.
The movie both flattens and contours its characters. There are moments where I don't know if everything works. I'm really torn about Scarlett Johansson's interpretation of Paul, Jojo's father. I love that scene for the most part. But part of me also says it might be the most artificial thing in the entire movie. There's some weird stuff in this movie, but it all seems to fit with the exception of that part. It's one of those things that, as a director, I would have to question because it is beautiful. But it also is a little silly and provides a lot of exposition to who Jojo's father really was.
But I can't think of a part of this movie that doesn't really work. Elsa is such an interesting character. We have seen this character before. Based on the experience of Anne Frank, what would it be like to live in a wall? But the Jewish refugee has always been portrayed from a position of victimhood. This isn't a commentary on what SHOULD be presented, but rather that this is something just different and new. I adore Elsa and her lack of fear. Waititi incorporates (and this really could be from the novel) a narrative reason for her courage. She has very little to live for, thus her relationship with Jojo is the only thing that keeps her going.
At the end of the day, the movie is also commenting on the fact that racists of any kind don't like leaving their comfort zone. The movie organically presents a world where the norm is disturbed. If Nazis have always been the villains of the story, showing them as the protagonist only forces us to shine the light on ourselves. From Jojo's perspective, Germany will always triumph because he always believed that Germany is right. But it has to come crashing down sometimes. We're not always right. The world around us is way more terrible than we've ever felt comfortable acknowledging before. But sometimes, all it takes is being able to laugh at our own stupidity and make a change.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.