By: Josh Leichter  | 

Silly Rabbit, Nazism is Bad: A Jojo Rabbit Review

What is satire? If you were to go off of the official definition, the answer would be any use of irony or humor to poke fun at an institution, a group of people, or just a single person. Often in film we see filmmakers use satire as a way to make light of controversial or sensitive topics in the world. Classic films like “Dr. Strangelove”, which is an amusing portrayal of Cold War politics and the nuclear debate, as well as more recent features like 2017’s “The Death of Stalin”, which saw high ranking Soviet officials in a bumbling quest to take up the mantle of their beloved dictator, are examples of this type of satire. By using satire correctly, audiences can laugh at and dissect different events in history as well as apply these same societal issues that may still be prevalent in today’s day and age. 

One particular target of satire in film and media at large is the Nazi Party, and more specifically, Adolf Hitler. These takedowns and mockeries of such a ruthless leader have been employed since he was still alive, with the iconic 1940 Charlie Chaplain film, “The Great Dictator”, which saw Chaplain himself portraying both a Jewish barber and the fictitious Adenoid Hynkel, who sported the same toothbrush mustache as his real-life counterpart. Another film released in 1967 by Mel Brooks called “The Producers” showcased two scheming producers putting on a play titled ‘Springtime for Hitler’. In this film, Nazis performed choreographed dances in a swastika formation on stage and sang the eponymous song dressed in lederhosen. These films were collectively nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. “The Producers” won Best Original Screenplay. 

With the release of the film “Jojo Rabbit”, directed by Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarök”), the aforementioned classics been brought up as examples of successful uses of satire to make a mockery of Nazi Germany. Despite similarities between all three films’ portrayal of Nazism, the way that “Jojo Rabbit” makes its attempt comes off hollow. The basic plot of the film is centered around 10-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, a member of the local Hitler Youth and blind worshipper of the Fuehrer to the point that he imagines Hitler as his best friend, struggling with accepting the propaganda he is fed when he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa in his house.  

One of the main issues with the film is its lack of a clear tone, shifting between comedy in the first two acts before turning into a more dramatic black comedy for the final act. This tonal change makes the moments that the film is trying to portray as thought-provoking and emotional come off flat and uncomfortable. In one of the exchanges between Jojo and Elsa, Jojo insists he is a Nazi due to the fact that he loves swastikas. In a counter to this assertion, Elsa states that Jojo is simply a 10-year-old boy who happens to like swastikas and is wearing a uniform that puts him in a club greater than himself. Elsa’s argument can explain how children are taught hate from a young age, yet when it is juxtaposed, as it is in the film, to the discussion of the various far-fetched claims the Nazis made about Jews, a viewer is bound to feel awkward. 

When the movie jumps from portraying the imaginary version of Adolf Hitler as a unicorn eating fool to him yelling at Jojo for saying that maybe Jews aren’t as bad as he thought, there is a sense that the comedic and dramatic elements do not blend well. Had the film attempted to stick with comedy all the way through, its attempts to satirize the Nazis would have come out stronger, but with the lack of balance between the two tones in the film, it just winds up falling as flat as the Fuehrerbunker did when it was blown up by the Soviets.

Photo Caption: “Jojo Rabbit”, a FOX Searchlight production, was released on Oct. 18, 2019
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