Jojo Rabbit: Mastering the middle ground
“Jojo Rabbit” is not big, cerebral, or boastful like the director’s previous, abysmal “Thor: Ragnorok.” It is quiet and curious. The world needs more bittersweet, heartwarming, and hopeful films like “Jojo Rabbit.”
Director Taika Waititi’s style shines, mixing genuine emotion with sharp editing and a compositional balance that leans towards Wes Anderson-esque symmetry. The film’s witty dialogue provides a solid backbone of memorable lines that endear audiences to his characters. Actors such as Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson provide subtle and poignant performances, while the younger actors impress with their delicate adolescence.
This coming-of-age story is breezy and nonchalant. It is wondrous how Waititi’s style perfectly conveys the story world through the eyes of a child without skewing the narrative’s perspective. The audience experiences the viewpoint of the titular character, Jojo, while simultaneously understanding the tragic world surrounding him, which he has yet to comprehend. This dichotomy creates perfect and unique moments of insightful irony.
Waititi asks audiences to embrace the simplicity and pure values of children. This unshackles the story and allows viewers to drop their guard and relax. Hilarious bits then easily produce copious amounts of laughter but also trigger a thoughtful dissonance in the back of viewers’ minds.
Finally, as Act 3 reaches its climax, that dissonance turns into eloquent values that are instilled in the audience. In this moment, the entire cast of characters comes together, fighting for different ideals and grasping for something meaningful. This clash of happy and sad reveals a broken world where none of those individuals’ ideals win out. “Jojo Rabbit” only places faith in the virtue of helping others, emphasizing this as what should be humanity’s highest ideal.
To achieve the tonal balance necessary for Waititi’s vision, he intentionally downplays heightened moments of tragedy that feel like they should have more impact. There is not a rollercoaster of highs and lows here, but rather a steady middle ground of emotions. This, at first, seems negligent on the part of the director, and some audience members may reject the idea of this neutrality and will leave the theater underwhelmed.
But in this equilibrium, Waititi finds an effective balance to show a twisted world through the eyes of an innocent child. And with tragic, heavy-drama stories being so prevalent, it may be a good thing that the audience doesn’t feel so low. Instead, they can only comprehend the events through Jojo’s perspective. This also allows a clearer understanding of the film’s theme that otherwise may have been overshadowed by such a dire atmosphere.
That is not to say that all of the production decisions pan out. While Waititi’s composition pleases, moments of camera movement do not usually match the intensity of the scene and downplay tension more than is necessary. A climatic conversation is underplayed and once again, suffers from a lack of tension which would have added much more triumph to the decisions of the protagonist. Most disappointing is the musical score, which fails to improve or complement almost every significant moment of the story.
In light of these flaws, why then, is “Jojo Rabbit” so valuable? Why is it, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best film of the year so far?
The movie is pure, crazy, childlike fun, and it uses that to recognize unifying and compassionate truths about the relationships between people. It is a timeless story that can universally relate to all who experience it, and, most importantly, it implores the human race to selflessly care for one another.
An onscreen quote relates the dichotomy of “beauty” and “terror,” that they are intricately intertwined. If more individuals started to live their lives more akin to the simple purity of a child’s life, then tragic, historical events like the one “Jojo Rabbit” centers around could be avoided, and better days may lie ahead.
With delicious, paradoxical humor, an unconcerned pace, virtuous themes, and a delightful last scene, “Jojo Rabbit” quickly endears itself to the audience. Waititi masters the middle ground of emotions and constructs a refreshing and lovely story that will hopefully inspire all who see it.