Now Playing at the Savoy Theater
Jo Jo Rabbit
The worst thing you can do as an entertainer is to demonize a person or group of people. That is how division, hate, murder and war are allowed to happen.
The best thing you can do as an entertainer is to humanize a person or group of people who has been demonized. That is how hate and war evolves into peace, love, and understanding.
It is easier and more popular to demonize and destroy people. That’s why so many people watch the news, I’m guessing. That’s also why there are so many movies about Nazis. It’s a piece of cake for artless, lazy filmmakers to pick on Nazis. They make for contemptible villains and mediocre movies.
It takes a brave and love-driven director to make a movie set in Nazi Germany and present WWII-era Germans as human beings that are as diverse as we are. New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi is indeed brave. And his new comedy “Jo Jo Rabbit” is a must-see.
You can tell from the opening credits that it is definitely not “Schindler’s List.” ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ plays as Waititi shows us a montage of teenage girls screaming on Ed Sullivan and young Germans feverishly saluting Hitler.
Waititi’s controversial point is that Nazism isn’t so different from Beatlemania. People easily succumb to groupthink and blindly follow the crowd. Blessed be the few heroes who see past the madness.
Scarlett Johansson plays Rosie Betzler: a seemingly normal mom in 1945 Germany. Except Rosie doesn’t believe in the war or the Nazi cause at all. She quietly dissents in any way she can.
Meanwhile, she struggles to maintain a positive motherly relationship with her 10-year-old son Jo Jo – who has been fully indoctrinated with Nazi values. Jo Jo even has Hitler (Taika Waititi) as an imaginary friend.
The unexpected heart of “Jo Jo Rabbit” is Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf. In any other film, he’d be an obvious villain. But Waititi and Rockwell find laughter and pathos in Klenzendorf’s absurd situation.
Captain Klenzendorf was seriously wounded in battle fighting for the Reich. Now he has the unenviable task of training adolescent German boys to defend the fatherland because they are the only males left.
But Rockwell’s Klenzendorf is not a moron nor a monster.
He knows that Germany is about to be defeated and that he’ll probably die defending his town in a totally lost cause.
He knows that training pre-teen boys to fight an unwinnable war is insane and awful.
Life has dealt him a brutally bad hand, and he accepts it without bitterness. He drinks and laughs and does his best to find joy and meaning during the last few months of his life.
He quietly performs good deeds even though he doesn’t think he has a shot at redemption. But he does and Waititi shows us how. Klenzendorf’s final act of decency is the beautiful climax to this splendid movie.
Some people will find “Jo Jo Rabbit” confusing and possibly infuriating. They may think that Taika Waititi is defending Nazi Germany.
Of course he’s not, though. What he’s doing is showing that the only cures for fanaticism and hatred are humanity and love. Blind, unforgiving hatred of your enemies – even Nazis – is the wrong decision for yourself and for your society.
Taika Waititi finds comedy and joy and understanding in situations where lesser films only found boring drama. “Jo Jo Rabbit” is one of the best pictures of the year, and perhaps the most important.