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The Hilarious Film ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and its Take on WWII 

Promotional Artwork for ‘Jojo Rabbit’ [Credit: Fox Searchlight]

The following contains spoilers for the movie Jojo Rabbit.

Jojo Rabbit was an amazing movie that I recommend to anyone looking for a comedy/drama type film. The movie elicited a rollercoaster of emotions in me, ranging from outright laughter to pure sympathy and guilt for the characters throughout multiple scenes. The actors were brilliant in portraying certain emotions and scenes, causing me to find myself rooting for them and their struggles throughout the entire movie while also sympathizing with them during unfortunate situations. 

Jojo Rabbit was directed by the famous New Zealand director Taiki Waititi, who has directed popular films such as Thor: Ragnorok, Boy, and What We Do in The Shadows, and made its first appearance at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2019. The movie was an instant success, earning 90.3 million dollars at the box office and winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The movie is set in Germany during WWII and revolves around Jojo, played by Robert Griffin Davis, a German boy who hopes to one day be a part of the German war effort and help Adolf Hitler defeat and eradicate the Jews.

His future goals and dreams are soon crushed when he discovers that his single mother, played by Scarlett Johanson, has been hiding a Jewish girl, played by Thomasin McKenzie, in their attic. Throughout the film, Jojo is constantly conflicted between the ideals of joining the German army and serving his idol, and saving and protecting the one person he was taught to kill.

Before getting into the film, it is important to understand that there are multiple portrayals of Nazi soldiers, Nazi propaganda, and Adolf Hitler. These scenes, however, are only meant to further enhance the storyline and the comedic and dramatic aspect of the movie. These seemingly controversial characters are shown in ridiculous, cartoony, and satirical ways that are not meant to offend people or make fun of the seriousness of WWII. 

Plot (Spoilers)

The movie opens with Jojo speaking to himself in the mirror, trying to hype himself up to be ready for the German Nazi Youth Camp he is going to be participating in. Alongside him is his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, who also helps hype Jojo up to gain the confidence and courage he needs for the youth camp. 

At the camp, Jojo meets up with his best friend Yorki and the two participate in multiple army-related activities that are inappropriate for 10-year-olds, such as trench crawling, handling knives, burning books, and fighting each other. The group is also taught more about false depictions of Jewish people, portraying them as evil humans constantly indulging in immoral, horrifying acts. This propaganda fills Jojo’s mind, as he sees Jews as devils with horns with mind-controlling abilities, and perfectly sets up the movie for Jojo’s change in character and thought towards Jewish people.

The next day, during another camp activity, Jojo is pressured by the camp to kill an innocent rabbit. Jojo, however, is unable to kill the animal, dropping it and encouraging it to run away. The older camp kids quickly pick up the rabbit and break its neck without any emotion. Out of embarrassment, Jojo runs off into the woods while the rest of the camp mocks him, giving him his new notorious nickname “Jojo Rabbit.” 

After a small pep talk with Adolf, Jojo is determined to show the rest of the camp his strengths and bravery. Jojo rushes back into the camp while the kids are in the middle of a bomb-throwing activity, and he steals one of the bombs from a camp adult, throwing it as far as he can.

However, the bomb hits a tree and ricochets back at Jojo’s feet. In a hilarious scene, the bomb explodes in front of Jojo and blows the boy a couple of yards back; with his body lying unconsciously in the dirt, the camp general warns the kids not to make the same mistake. 

A couple of days later, Jojo can return home with a minor leg injury and a large scar going through his right eye and cheek. Jojo and his mom then walk into the general’s office, where Jojo’s mom scares the generals into assigning Jojo as a poster boy who must put up German propaganda posters across the town. 

After putting up multiple signs, Jojo arrives home alone to creaking sounds upstairs. The 2-minute long intense scene is broken when Jojo spots a hidden compartment in the side of his dead sister’s room. Upon entering the compartment, Jojo spots a girl sitting in the corner. She scares the boy into running down his house, screaming in terror.

The girl quickly catches up to Jojo, pinning him against the wall and forcing him to say who he thinks she is. Jojo fearfully responds by saying “A jew?” and telling her she can’t be in his house. The girl then threatens to cut off Jojo’s head and take him and his mother down with her if he tells anybody about her, even his mother. The girl then walks back upstairs towards her cubby hole while Jojo frighteningly runs away into his room.

Jojo tries multiple times, with the help of Adolf, to negotiate with the girl but is unsuccessful, each time running away out of fear and intimidation from the girl’s appearance and tone of voice. 

One day, Jojo finally grows the courage to confront the girl, and the two can negotiate terms with each other on the condition that the girl tells Jojo more about the Jews for a book he is writing. Plagued with what he has learned from school, Jojo asks the girl multiple ridiculous questions, such as about where the queen Jew lives. The girl replies with equally ridiculous answers, such as describing the Jews as money-hungry devils who hang like bats on childrens’ ceilings when they are asleep. 

During one of his interrogations, Jojo learns that the girl’s name is Elsa and that she has a husband fighting in The Resistance named Nathan. In a way to assert control, Jojo forges a letter supposedly from Nathan and reads it aloud to Elsa, telling her that Nathan wishes to divorce her and that he was lying about being in the resistance. This note crushes Elsa as she silently returns to her room.

Immediately feeling guilty, Jojo writes another fake letter and reads it to Elsa, saying that Nathan wishes to marry her again. Elsa is amused by the new letter and comes out of her room to talk to Jojo. The two spark their unbreakable friendship at this point as they begin to learn more and more about each other. Elsa teaches Jojo about love and how Jews’ voices sound like birds singing. Jojo is amazed by the new information and soon grows to feel a small bit of affection towards Elsa, shown through an animation of butterflies in his stomach.

Jojo goes on to tell the generals from his camp about the information he found out about Jews, and, on another job assigned to him, he tells Yorki that he has a Jewish girlfriend. 

Upon returning home, Jojo is startled to see the Gestapo, a group of German investigators, along with the camp general at his doorstep, obviously suspicious about them housing a Jew. In the most nerve-racking scenes, the investigators search the entire house for any clues or signs that may indicate the presence of a Jew. When the investigators reach Jojo’s sister’s room, Elsa comes out to greet the investigators, acting as Jojo’s sister. 

The lead investigator is suspicious and asks to see Elsa’s papers. She pulls out Jojo’s sister’s papers and hands them to the lead general. The general then asks Elsa how old she was when she had her picture taken and what her birthday is. Elsa seemed to have answered the questions correctly as the investigators and the general leave without further questioning. 

On another day out, Jojo follows a butterfly to the town square and spots his mother’s lifeless body hanging, the noose still around her neck. Blinded with rage and grief, Jojo rushes home and tries to stab Elsa. Elsa stops Jojo before he can do anything and slowly calms him down.

That night, the two watch outside Elsa’s window on the ongoing war, hearing hundreds of gunshots and explosions in the distance. 

Weeks pass before Jojo hears about their country getting invaded by the Americans. He runs to hide under a broken building and comes out to spot hundreds of American soldiers roaming their streets and taking German soldiers prisoners. 

Jojo runs home in fear and heads to Elsa’s door. When Elsa asks Jojo about who won the war, Jojo lies to her, telling her that the Germans won. Immediately regretting his words, Jojo reads another supposed letter from Nathan, telling her that he and Nathan have devised a plan for her to escape. The two then walk outside only for Elsa to discover American soldiers roaming around the streets and a car of Americans waving around an American flag. 

The movie ends with Elsa and Jojo dancing outside their doorstep without a care in the world, happy to be alive and together.

Scenes that Depict Underlying Themes 

Multiple scenes throughout Jojo Rabbit depict Jojo’s growth in character and reveal the overall themes of the film, specifically about his identity and beliefs. At first, Jojo struggles to fit in with the kids at the German Youth Camp as he is unable to gain the courage to perform in all of the activities. He is unhappy with himself and constantly needs guidance from adult figures to help him regain his lost self-confidence. Elsa is the character that ultimately causes the change in Jojo as she helps him learn to be happy with himself and his goals. 

One scene that depicts Jojo’s growth in character starts at the beginning of the movie when Jojo is seen in front of the mirror saying, “Jojo Betzler, 10 years old. Today, you join the ranks of Jungvolk in a very special training weekend. I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler.”

This scene depicts Jojo’s initial beliefs about his country and where he wants to be in life. Jojo is immersed in the idea of serving Adolf and killing the devilish Jews, as that is what he was taught his entire life. He sets a goal for himself to work hard and to devote all his time and strength to serve Adolf. At the end of the movie, Jojo is seen in front of another mirror, saying, “Jojo Betzler. 10 and a half years old. Today, just do what you can.”

Not only has Jojo grown age-wise but he has also grown out of his initial beliefs and goals he set for himself. Instead of trying to devote himself to serving Adolf in the army, Jojo has decided to focus on the present and do what he can to help those around him. This scene is powerful, as the audience recognizes Jojo’s overall growth. 

Other scenes that depict Jojo’s growth involve him and his mother. Jojo is unable to tie his shoes and constantly needs his mother around to tie his laces for him. The movie points this out on multiple occasions. For one, Jojo and his mother are out near a river.

She scolds him for not being able to tie his shoes and ties the laces of both shoes together, causing Jojo to trip and have to jump up around to move. Another scene shows Jojo clutching onto his mother’s lifeless body and trying to tie her shoes. Unfortunately, he is unable to do so and gives up after a couple of attempts.

At the end of the movie, when Elsa and Jojo are about to leave their home, Jojo stops Elsa to tie her shoes and does so in a couple of seconds. These scenes are extremely touching as they show how Jojo has grown from a child constantly needing guidance and help from adults to a mature, responsible boy who can recognize and help those around him. 

One final key moment that displays Jojo’s growth in character is between him and Adolf (Jojo’s imaginary friend, not the real Adolf). Adolf is Jojo’s role model, and Jojo turns to him every time he needs encouragement and motivation.

During the first half of the movie, Adolf is constantly there for Jojo, providing guidance, encouragement, and advice, every time he needs it. He is seen as a pure, joyful, immature, and happy soul that every child would want as a friend.

However, once Jojo starts spending more and more time with Elsa, Adolf starts turning violent and aggressive, shouting at Jojo for constantly spending time with a Jew and scolding him for not helping the war effort. At the end of the movie, Jojo has had enough of Adolf and kicks him straight outside of his window, removing Adolf from his life forever.

This scene is remarkably moving as Jojo abandons the person he looked up to for so long for Elsa, a girl he was taught to hate and kill. The scene shows how much Elsa has changed Jojo, especially with his views and beliefs of Jewish people, and how much she has helped him grow, morally and emotionally.

Jojo Rabbit portrays times in Germany through a satirical, comedic, and dramatic perspective, which makes this movie such an amazing watch. There are multiple hilarious, tragic, touching, and intense moments that will keep anyone glued to the astonishing plot and rooting for the main characters. 

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