This film has unleashed some controversy, with critics divided about its controversial take on Nazism and Hitler in particular, here appearing as the imaginary friend of a 10 year old boy. The film won a BAFTA and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Film. Writer director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, Jojo Rabbit, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.
Depictions of Hitler as the butt of satire tend to upset some people, regardless of intent. We can assume that Waititi, the son of a Maori painter and a Russian Jewish mother, knew exactly what he was doing when he decided to write the script, adapting a book by Christine Leunens. Waititi himself plays a comedic version of the Fuhrer. The director wants Jojo Rabbit to be noticed – and it deserves to be. It’s an audacious, challenging form of comedy, the upsetting kind. It looks from the publicity like a children’s film, but it is anything but.
One critic says it’s hard to justify the argument made by other critics that the film trivialises the Holocaust. It’s not directly about the Holocaust, although the presence of someone in hiding and patrols rounding up Jews make it clear what is going on. The problem for some critics is perhaps the disjunction in form: the film causes us to laugh at a subject that usually comes packaged as tragedy. Waititi depicts Hitler as a manic, out-of-control, childish version of the Fuhrer, but what else would a confused 10-year-old conjure from his own trauma?
It’s quite hard to mistake Waititi’s seriousness of purpose. The film gets darker as it goes, becoming more confronting and nerve-racking. Indeed, Waititi’s control of the changing mood is one of the picture’s great assets. It’s no crime to believe that comedy can be every bit as serious and engaging as drama; indeed, the recognition of that potential is well overdue. Comedy used to be much more nuanced and supple than it has become. Jojo Rabbit is bold in its inversion of expectations and its reimagining of a familiar subject. There’s nothing trivial about it.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall