It is difficult to say whether Jojo Rabbit is hilarious or utterly horrifying. I went to see it yesterday, and from the very beginning it was clear that I was watching a very unique, interesting film. It is very funny, but the events it depicts are among the most serious and disturbing. Set in Germany in about 1945, it’s about a boy whose mother shelters a jewish girl from the Nazi thugs all around. In his innocence, the boy has made Hitler into an imaginary friend. He believes what he has been told about Hitler being a nice, kind, fatherly figure. The audience can see this imaginary friend, and it is quite a comic, jolly figure, getting into all kinds of scrapes with the boy. When the boy meets the jewish girl, they develop a friendship: he finds her friendly and kind, obviously contradicting everything he’s been told by the Nazis.
To be honest, something about this film doesn’t feel right to me. It is cheerful and funny, yet the events it depicts, often going on in the background or implied, are truly horrifying. We see people murdered, beaten and executed. On one level this is not a subject to laugh about; yet because we witness events from a young child’s perspective, everything seems jolly and fun, with most of the characters and action being almost pythonesque. It’s as if the film has two distinct, separate layers: on the surface it is a children’s film, a comedy about a little boy growing up, surrounded by very stupid people who allow him to do all kinds of silly things. Just below that surface layer, though, is a horror film, clearly depicting some of the most appalling acts ever committed.
The problem is, which is the correct layer? What is Jojo Rabbit trying to be, comedy or horror? Does this juxtaposition of layers add to or subtract from the overall effect of the film? Does the comedy complement the horror, or make light of things innately unfunny? Should the film be criticised for this contradiction, or was it deliberately employed by the directorTaika Waititi? Should this film be praised for it’s boldness and bravery, or be appalled? What was Waititi trying to tell us?? Such questions are at the heart of this film, and to be honest I don’t know what to think. From the look of it, many other critics are divided about this film too; but perhaps that was the whole point. At the same time I am intrigued and disquieted by it.