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.
I have to admit when I first read that Taika Waititi was following up career changing success with Thor: Ragnarok (2017) with a film called JoJo Rabbit, I thought he was making a quirky flick about some obscure comic book character.
I mean after all … who can keep track of all those comic book characters?
But when I learned that JoJo Rabbit was actually going to be a WWII satire film that would have a lot to say about the current rise of nationalism in western democracies around the globe (including the USA), I was floored.
Waititi was taking a big chance here. The safer approach would have been another comic book film or at least another adventure/comedy flick. Instead, the 44-year-old writer/actor/director is using his new found clout to make a film that actually has something relevant to say.
Not Playing It Safe
Films with strong contemporary social and/or political messages can be divisive among audiences. Any film with a strong message is going to resonate with some while alienating others. Then there’s always a segment of the film going population that NEVER wants to be preached at from the big screen. They view the movies strictly as an escape — a place to stuff your face with popcorn and forget all about the real world.
Sometimes movies with political or social messages can alienate some audiences to such a level that the director’s reputation is impacted. Like a scarlet letter he wears for the rest of his career, the director is associated with a certain set of political or social beliefs.
All of which makes JoJo Rabbit both a commercial risk for the studio and a professional risk for Waititi. Films like this go beyond the simple notion of a director’s pet project to something far more compelling. When a director is willing to stick his neck out there for something like this, understanding the possible consequences, he has to be driven to deliver a particular message.
A Personal Message
Filmmakers take a major risk when they put their politics in their films. Even a broadly accepted message (like Nazism is evil) can be twisted by sideways interpretation. Or when audiences do resonate with a filmmaker’s politics, it’s not a guarantee they want to see a movie with a strong political message.
A lot of folks head to the theater to escape the burden of reality. But Waititi is taking a chance that JoJo Rabbit will deliver the kind of message audiences not only need to hear, but want to see.
And it’s not even a super hilarious film; there’s a lot of comedy in it, but again, as with my other films, it’s more of a drama with a lot of light moments throughout. I’m not even sure if it could be construed as a comedy. It’s definitely not a broad comedy … Having said all that, it’s the most original way I feel I would want to look at tackling this subject.
Taika Waititi speaking with Deadline (May 15, 2019)
The purpose of putting social and political statements into a film isn’t to win over converts. Sure, filmmakers would love to see audiences won over to certain point of view. But the real intention is to start a conversation.
Whether JoJo Rabbit is a commercial success or not this fall. it seem inevitable that Waititi is going to do exactly that.
JoJo Rabbit arrives in theaters on October 18
If you enjoyed this article, please check out my blog at www.blueharvestfilms.com