It would have seemed almost unimaginable just a few years ago that 2019 America would have a…Nazi problem right out in the open. Yet such hatemongers have actually been referred to as “very fine people” by the man who holds the title of The President of the United States of America.
Into this bizarrely unsettling reality came a fittingly surreal film last autumn about a little German boy, Jojo (played by Roman Griffin Davis), who is pretty sure being a Nazi is a pretty great thing. It just nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay and, most notably, a Best Supporting Actress nod for Scarlett Johansson, and Best Picture for Taika Waititi.
The story? Well, despite the Axis powers starting to unravel, Jojo is proudly heading off to fascist training camp, like all obedient little boys do. In fact, he’s so devoted to the cause, that his imaginary friend is not a puppy or a bunny (or not even a dreamed up Nazi boy), but Adolf Hitler himself.
Jojo Rabbit morphs from uncomfortable absurdity (everything about Hitler is uncomfortable) into a magical but tidily packaged, tolerance-teaching morality fable, when Jojo actually meets a young Jewish girl and, much to his astonishment, realizes she’s not a monster – as he had assumed about all Jews. His mother (Scarlett Johansson), you see, is a member of the resistance, and she has hidden the girl away in the attic, without Jojo’s previous knowledge.
Luckily director Taika Waititi (who gets great comic Nazi performances out of Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson) doesn’t play it too maudlin – which also means Jojo Rabbit lacks the emotionally piercing ending of, say, Max, another film that got undue criticism for depicting Hitler outside of his historically documented psychopathy. But as an incisive meditation on the indoctrination of innocent children into horrifying ideologies, it is poignant, thought provoking, and exceedingly relevant to the current zeitgeist of paranoia and fear that always accompanies irrational hatred.
Jojo Rabbit is currently back in theaters (six Oscar noms will do that). Don’t miss it this time.