Review: Jojo Rabbit

A movie which labels itself an ‘anti-hate satire’ is already not starting on the best of terms—but there was no way of knowing the depths of awfulness it would plumb. Taika Waititi’s mirthless and mawkish sixth film tries to tell the story of ten-year-old Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davies), a fanatical Hiter youth initiate, nicknamed “Jojo.” He lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who tries to coax the boy she knows out from what the film perversely suggests is simply another one of those pre-adolescent fixations, and is frequently visited by his invisible friend: Adolf Hitler, played by the director in grating kitsch-mode. Jojo’s antisemitism is drip-fed him by a score of witless superiors (I will not describe the parts; I will not name the actors playing them: I don’t think they’re worth the time); this is challenged by the appearance of Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish lady, who is hiding out in Jojo’s house, assisted by Rosie. Jojo Rabbit is an irresponsible film, for a start, because the aim of its ‘satire’ is to comfort, rather than to challenge. (It’s not Lubitsch is what I’m saying.) The film tells the audience precisely what it wants to hear, exactly how it wants to hear it: fascism is facile, childish, and only those who can’t know better would believe in it—it’s so far removed from you, the film posits. It’s clearly tempting to believe this, because many have voiced this sentiment after watching: It’s so tempting and yet it’s so absolutely wrong. Fascism, and the intricately connected web of poisoned thinking it engenders and relies upon—unhelpfully flattened in the film’s marketing and in the discourse surrounding it (as if these are separate things) to the nebulous notion of ‘hate’—is close to everyone. Jojo Rabbit‘s narrative is loathsome, alternating between broad slapstick routines of those silly, ineffectual Nazis failing to perform tasks or organise, and a trite tale of a young boy being shown there’s more to the world than his tiny beliefs; I didn’t laugh once at the film, perhaps because my revulsion had buttressed itself well before the halfway point. (A revulsion doubled in a moment involving a character’s pair of shoes: this particular note would be appalling in any movie—couple this with the film’s historical context and it becomes nigh unforgivable.) Hearing this callous bullshit be praised and championed for its heart—it hasn’t one—and its timeliness—seriously?—is one of the more dispiriting moments of my cinema-going life. For fuck’s sake people, I beg you: please watch Shoah. 

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