Expectation is a dangerous thing. I’ve fallen foul in the past as my movie watching is spoiled by having high hopes only for a movie, excellent in its own right, to fall short of my contrived expectations. I told several people that, parody aside, JoJo Rabbit is a hilarious film, and spent some time during Saturday’s movie worrying that I had oversold it. There are some excellent funny moments, but hilarious ? I’m asking myself why I had previously formed that opinion, and searched for other adjectives I might have used. And every one I came up with - joyous, gentle, feel-good, inspiring, heart-warming - have in common that they are words you would least expect to use for a movie about kids joining the Hitler Youth, vilifying Jews and with Adolf Hitler as a mentor, albeit in JoJo’s imagination.
But make no mistake, JoJo Rabbit is a feel-good story, and not just because Elsa escapes from her captivity and can finally dance in the street with JoJo. What we see unfold is a transition from boyhood idealism/indoctrination to personal realization through human contact. It helps that the most of the Nazis on display are buffoons, including Der Fuhrer. And the sad moments - indeed the films pivotal shock-horror moment - contrast starkly with the otherwise gradual development of JoJo’s personal conscience.
The movie was written and directed by Taika Waititi, who also plays the imaginary Hitler as a cartoon figure. He has taken some criticism for a depiction of Nazism that fails to represent its full evils, but perhaps this can be excused - we see the world how JoJo does. He sees only smart uniforms, fun war games and the caricatured depictions of evil Jews with their hidden horns and their mind control tricks, which are ultimately at odds with his discovery of Elsa and her humanity.
As I watched this for the second time, I was struck how many lessons there were for our lives today, as much as its anti-Nazi message. A population controlled and channelled though distorted representations of national enemies, outrageous lies accepted as truth, fear of authority amongst good people, almost arbitrary violence against those who speak out, yet when people talk to people and make a human connection devoid of propaganda and politics, good prevails. Even as we all sat stoically in gentle rain, refusing to give in to the elements for the sake of the movie, I thought of viruses and masks, and how doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.