Explaining How JoJo Rabbit Might Be Perfect

Explaining How JoJo Rabbit Might Be Perfect - because this movie will teach you things. Things you might not want to learn. I promise you.
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I might be crying. But only because the theater was really dusty, and the seats were covered in pollen, or some such weapons grade tear inducing military agent. Or something. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying because of the movie I just walked out of. JoJo Rabbit is anything but sentimental dammit. As a ten-year-old’s vantage on the inner workings of World War II it is all about finding and killing Jews. It’s definitely not about sheltering them in your house, or protecting them. I mean. It can’t be about that. So yeah, today I shall be explaining how JoJo Rabbit might be perfect in each and every way.

But first, please know, this movie is 100% worth your time. I knew nothing about the movie a day or two ago. I sort of knew that it was about World War II. I sort of knew there was a kid in it. But outside of that, I knew nothing. And when the lights dimmed in the theater and Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin and Her) walked across the screen I was like, WAIT WHAT?!!? And that was how I was introduced to the glory that is JoJo Rabbit…

JoJo Rabbit PSA

Alright – before I dive into the movie – I have to say this…you need to watch this film. Like, buy a ticket. Walk up to a theater. Stand in line. And watch this movie. I thought maybe this was a film was a duel release movie – online and theatrical versions, but it isn’t. So bite the bullet – cut out a part of your Christmas break, and haul your entire family out to see this thing. Yes, even Uncle Bennie. He really needs to see this. He’ll be confused afterwards, but then you can just point him this direction, and then he’ll be right as rain. Promise. I got your Uncle Bennie covered. I swear it.

JoJo Rabbit Walkthrough

The movie opens on Johannes “JoJo” Betzler, a ten-year-old living deep in the bowels of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. He and his mother Rosie are doing their best to keep going even though JoJo’s father is supposedly serving Germany on the Italian Front. We also know that JoJo’s older sister Inge recently died of influenza. Now, JoJo isn’t ever alone, because JoJo has an imaginary friend, Hitler. This Hitler is unlike any other depiction of the demon I have ever witnessed. I literally laughed every time the character came on the screen. And why? Because it is JoJo’s coping mechanism with this crazy world that is falling apart all around him.

JoJo spends the beginning of the movie at a Hitler Youth camp that is supervised by Captain Klenzendorf (played by Sam Rockwell, from Moon of course, duh.) along with his best friend Yorki. But when JoJo is ordered to kill a rabbit to prove he is able to kill, JoJo attempts to set the rabbit free. Which, explains the name of the movie. But after running away, Hitler gives JoJo a pep talk, and encourages him to go back and give it to them all. Where upon, he grabs a grenade, chucks it, and after it bounces off a tree, gets hit by shrapnel. But after his recovery, Klenzendorf begins giving JoJo jobs around the Hitler Youth offices.

One day, alone and by himself, JoJo discovers Elsa Korr (played by Thomasin McKenzie – who was brilliant in Leave No Trace, The King), a Jew, living in the walls of his home. Now, while his mother Rosie works to help the Jews from the inside of the German machine, JoJo is no sympathizer. In fact, his mother was so worried about JoJo that she hid the fact that she worked in the underground resistance from JoJo. But JoJo is stuck. He can’t turn her in or his mother will be killed. So JoJo and Elsa have something of a detente as both can’t be rid of the other.

Most of the movie involves the clever give and take between the young German and the teen Jew in the attic of JoJo’s home. JoJo forges letters from Elsa’s fiance. And Elsa helps craft a book about the Jews. All the while Hitler is constantly chiding JoJo to keep him from letting Elsa get inside his head.

Explaining How JoJo Rabbit Might Be Perfect

One day, JoJo is home with Elsa – as he is realizing that he is falling in love with her – when the Gestapo suddenly arrives to search the house for Jews. After their introductions, and Heil Hitlers, Klenzendorf coincidentally arrives and Elsa shows herself. And, in an adept turn, she takes on the identity of JoJo’s dead older sister, Inge. But when Klenzendorf asks her age and birthday, to see if they match with Inge’s papers, she gets the date incorrect. But Klenzendorf covers for her anyway.

Now, I’ve thought more about this encounter more than any other moment in the movie. What does it mean? I mean, from a movie, and philosophical standpoint? Sure, it means that Klenzendorf might have been working with Rosie to support the Jews…maybe they were romantically inclined? It better mean that, because the alternative isn’t really great. We also see Klenzendorf get JoJo freed by calling him a Jew. And he does this right before he is killed.

But if Klenzendorf isn’t working in the underground then I’m afraid it bodes really ill for the movie, from my perspective anyway. Think it through for a moment. If Klenzendorf just accidentally wandered into JoJo’s home when the Gestapo were there, then it means he is just randomly assisting Elsa and JoJo. Which then seems to make the case that not all Germans were all bad. Yes, this is a true statement. Not all Germans had hearts as black as Hitler. Sure. But it is an enormous slippery slope. At the time, Germans were plagued by just a few evil men. 5% of the Germans maybe. And these men were the heinous individuals that did 100% of the tragic atrocities.

So the question is this, was Klenzendorf actually in the resistance, or is the film positing that Germans actually weren’t that bad? And the question is all the more poignant because the film is mainly a comedy. A Nazi atrocity comedy? It should be walking a very careful line here. Which basically means I’m now going to have to read Christine Leunen’s book “Caging Skies” upon which JoJo Rabbit was based on, in order to really figure this one really important detail out. Am I even making sense here? When I first started watching, I almost walked out simply because I didn’t think I could watch a comedic Nazi movie. And the movie actually pulled that delicate balance off. Which it did mainly through extensive use of hardcore sarcasm. And it really works. UNTIL this point. What are they saying here?

(Hey there time traveler – I just read Caging Skies. How does it feel to have a super power? So, yeah, this is a really complex book. But black and white. Very clear. The start of the book is 100% a battle between JoJo and his father and JoJo’s adoption of Nazism. It’s all about this clash. So trust me when I say this book is totally on the up and up. It is actually all about JoJo learning how wrong he was, and the lies he crafted in making this ideology work. So I can set that question aside, and we can talk more about the book in the comments.)

Explaining How JoJo Rabbit Might Be Perfect

JoJo Rabbit Ending Dissected and Explained

Later that same day, JoJo Rabbit is out foraging for food when he discovers that his mother has been hanged. After an emotional pivot for the entire movie, JoJo heads home and stabs Elsa in the shoulder. But Elsa gets it. She totally understands what JoJo is feeling. And so she consoles him.

As the movie winds down to its conclusion, JoJo finds Yorki again, who is now a soldier. Which speaks to how desperate the Germans were at this point in the war with the Allies closing in on Germany. And all of a sudden, Fraulein Rahm puts a gun in JoJo’s hand and a German soldier’s jacket on him. But after witnessing chaotic warfare as people all around him are dying, JoJo and the city’s garrison surrender. Klenzendorf, captured as well, tells JoJo that his mother was a wonderful woman. He then saved JoJo by removing his jacket and then calling JoJo a Jew. JoJo runs, and moments later, Klenzendorf is shot…having sacrificed himself for JoJo.

Now – JoJo heads home and does something really really complicated. In order to keep Elsa from leaving, he tells her Germany won the war. But seeing how he crushed Elsa with his lie, he writes another fake later from Elsa’s boyfriend. However, Elsa admits that her boyfriend died a year previously. They admit their love for each other (in a little brother sort of way) and then JoJo has his final showdown with Adolf Hitler…his invisible Fuhrer – I mean, his invisible friend. Adolf, looking thrashed and busted, tells JoJo he’s upset about his siding with Elsa. But then JoJo boots the Fuhrer out the window. Whereupon JoJo takes Elsa outside, and she learns very quickly that the Allies had won the war. So Elsa slaps JoJo for lying to her, and then the two begin dancing.

The ending is the culmination of a singular journey. The story is totally about JoJo’s complete solidarity with the idea of Nazism, and his gradual realization of what he had signed up for, and how horrible an idea it really is. His real world classroom begins with his befriending of a Jew. And it ends with the Germans losing the war. And everything in between is what teaches him how enormous the lie of the 3rd Reich really is. It was fascinating in the book to live inside the head of a young child attempting to convince his father how wrong his opposition to Nazism is. To watch as this kid cobbles together an argument that will finally show his father just how wrong he is. And then, over time, for him to realize on his own how bereft of value, how empty a framework Hitler’s ideology really was.

It is an amazing thing to watch someone grapple with the truth on their own. To really struggle with competing evidence to their assumed foundational tenets. It’s rare for humans to do this. To admit failure. To realize how wrong they have always been, and to learn from this admission. Think about it. When was the last time you literally changed your mind on absolutely anything. Heck, from your preference for Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts…or whatever. Now, when was the last time you trashed a foundational belief? Atheism. Racism. Agnosticism. Postmodernism. Nihilism. Political parties. Economic ideals. etc. etc.

In college, and for several years afterwards, I held fast to the ideas and philosophical tenets of Nietzsche. Through my love of Nietzsche I dove into Heidegger and further on into the deep end of Postmodernism. And in so doing I had wholeheartedly grabbed on to the ideals of nihilism and determinism. Books: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, Beyond Good and Evil…I mean, his book On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense were what put the man on the map as the grandfather of postmodernism. But when I couldn’t settle many of his ideas with what I understood to be true from experience and from my faith I began the hard experience of slowly abandoning him. It literally took me over ten years to dismantle the house that I had made, brick by brick. But it was the hardest, and most complicated thing I’ve ever done.

The Book and the Movie

Taika Waititi is the author of the screenplay for the movie. He is also the director of the film. He is the one who has taken the book, Caging Skies, and spun this tale of JoJo Rabbit. But the movie and the book are more different than two things can possibly be. For example, the title, “JoJo Rabbit.” There was no rabbit in the book. They were ducks and ducklings. And JoJo wasn’t involved in having to kill them. Not a huge deal, but it’s the larger point I’m trying to make here. These two things are not like the other. But both are brilliant.

The book Caging Skies is groundbreaking in that it places an ardent Nazi Youth in the house of a family hiding a Jew. It places a child, affected and impacted by Hitler’s ideologies, close to a compelling young female…Jew. She systematically breaks his thinking, brick by brick. Johannes is so bought in to this way of thinking he belittles his mother and father whom he thinks, obviously, don’t get it. Johannes comes off as a strutting, and concerned, egoist. We learn how and why he has built this castle of lies in order to remain within the strongest of the strong, and the purest of the pure. Worse, they aren’t lies he tells others, they are lies he is telling himself. The self-deception required to be a successful Nazi must have been unbelievable. And I literally had never considered that before. It’s pure narcissism. Heck, the parallels to our current political world is shockingly interesting. The movie though, is a different thing entirely. I mean, it’s funny. There is literally nothing funny in the book. Nothing. But the movie is funny even when it’s heart-breakingly sad. It’s literally diametrically different than the book. And yet, it’s north star, are the exact same.

Movies that get me to dive deeper move me at my core. And at the end of that day, that’s what is brilliant about JoJo Rabbit. It’s funny, sarcastic, hilarious, and biting – all while teaching amazing truths. And with that, JoJo Rabbit leaps to the top of the best movies of 2019.

Edited by: CY