There are probably three different outcomes to a comedic satire about when a 10 year-old Nazi whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.
Outcome number one – the movie has zero business using something so unequivocally heinous in a comedic way, even if it is being used to combat hate, and it explodes upon impact because of this.
Outcome number two – the movie is able to find that miniscule lane that says it is okay to attempt something like this, and it is a perfect success.
Outcome number three – there are some moments that will make the viewer cringe, moments that will make them laugh out loud, and moments that will make them feel genuine emotion. But it doesn’t hit either extreme of the first two outcomes.
Somewhat surprisingly, writer/director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit falls unceremoniously into the third category. After going into the movie with fingers crossed, just hoping that the movie isn’t terrible and offensive, it turns out that it is ultimately harmless, but also fairly pointless.
There really isn’t any reason why this movie has to be about Hitler and the Nazis at the end of World War II. Usually, the point of a movie’s setting is that no other place and time can get across its message quite as well as this specific setting. Here, though, nothing screams that it is the reason Waititi decided to tell this story in this specific way.
Everyone… well – most people… already hate the Nazis and know that what they stand for is inherently wrong. So this would have perhaps been more poignant had it taken place in the present day, or during events more widely relatable, along the lines of a movie like BlacKkKlansman.
The aforementioned 10 year-old Nazi, Jojo, is like many young children at that time. He was brainwashed into thinking that Jews are something to be feared, and that white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes make up the perfect Aryan person. This, of course, is false. All people have the same inherent value because they are people, and not because the color of their skin. And Jewish people certainly don’t have horns or mind control powers.
We will come to find out, though, that this is the most profound idea that the movie has.
Now, this isn’t an attempt to belittle that message, because it of course refers to the most basic of human rights. But at the same time, you might expect a little bit more from a movie that frames its message through the lens of Nazi Germany.
The character of imaginary Hitler represents the brainwashing and indoctrination within the people of Germany at this time, but you still will find yourself cringing through laughter. Since Waititi is naturally hilarious, the Hitler character becomes the funniest part of the movie, and the part you’re looking forward to the most. If you’re going for straight comedy, this is great. But if you have a higher aim, like this movie does, you probably want there to be a more lasting takeaway from the character.
I’ve heard this movie be compared to 2018 Best Picture winner, Green Book, and that isn’t entirely off base. It is overall well-made and certainly entertaining, and while it has legitimate things to say about life, those things it has to say are shallow.
All in all, this movie is ultimately innocuous. You’ll be charmed and you will laugh, but you won’t come out of it thinking any more deeply about the world than you did before, and that is a large missed opportunity.