Directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit takes place during World War II and features none other than Adolf Hitler as a main character. Even though the central narrative addresses painfully real events, the focal story is fictional and fantastical, strange as that may seem.
In Jojo Rabbit, the titular protagonist (Roman Griffin Davis) has an imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler (Waititi). Jojo is a member of the Hitler Youth, which unfortunately informs his worldview. As a 10-year-old boy, he doesn’t quite understand what the real Hitler represents, and certainly can't know that his Führer would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of approximately 6 million Jewish people. Jojo’s single mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), pretends to support Hitler, but secretly hides a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), in the family home. Once Jojo discovers (and becomes enamored with) Elsa, he begins to question Hitler’s German Nationalism beliefs.
Jojo Rabbit isn’t based on a real German boy who daydreams of an imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler. Instead, Waititi’s screenplay is based on Christine Leunens’ 2008 fictional novel Caging Skies. Just as Quentin Tarantino revised World War II history and Hitler's fate with Inglourious Basterds, Jojo Rabbit similarly blends reality with fantasy. People did indeed hide and protects Jews during World War II, of course, and the Hitler Youth did indeed pledge allegiance to their Führer. These historical facts ground the film's black comedy premise, as Jojo Rabbit’s fictional Hitler character functions as a symbolic metaphor for a bizarre version of celebrity adoration.
For comedic relief, Waititi cast himself as Hitler in Jojo Rabbit. So, there’s an extra layer of fantasy, as the writer-director portrays an idealistic version of Hitler that the young protagonist knows and loves. All that childlike wonder and excitement is challenged by the discovery of Else, who then becomes the object of Jojo’s affection - an extra layer of irony considering the Hitler Youth subtext. Fantasy becomes reality; myths are debunked based on new evidence. Jojo’s real-life experiences lead to a new worldview, at least according to the film’s basic premise.
The Hitler Youth lasted until the Führer's presumed suicide in 1945, which means that former members are still alive today. For Jojo Rabbit, Waititi cast famous comedic performers such as Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson to portray Hitler Youth leaders, which infuses even more dark humor into the film while reminding audiences about the real-life organization. On YouTube, archival footage shows the national scope and structure of the Hitler Youth, and how young German boys - aka young Nazis - were fully committed to German Nationalism. Jojo Rabbit may be a comedy, but it’s still based on a tragedy all the same. Whether or not audiences connect with the film is an entirely different story.
- Jojo Rabbit (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019