Jojo Rabbit not only displays the perseverance of childhood in a dark era, but also its inevitable end.
This is my third Jojo article for the site. After this I’ll call it a wrap, it’s been fun. This movie has a lot to teach us about broken families and love, hence the wealth of content. But what about childhood? What does Jojo Rabbit have to teach us about childhood?
Age of the Lost Kits
Before I begin, I want to say I once titled this piece “Jojo Rabbit 3: Age of the Lost Kits.” I’m not even kidding. This was when ToomStone was a hobby. Long before I got serious with Search Engine Optimization, and before I even knew what it was.
If you’re wondering, a “kit” is a baby rabbit. I needed a good title with a solid rabbit pun.
But god, that was so esoteric, it hurt.
A Nazi’s Childhood
Anyway, Jojo Rabbit and childhood…
The film’s first act is essentially a Disney Channel movie with a morbid twist: It’s set in Nazi friggin’ Germany.
The opening credits roll with an upbeat Beatles song, I Want to Hold Your Hand, sung by a lively German boy’s choir. Ostensibly, they’re directing their message to Hitler, i.e. their “father.” That’s right, the tyrant made himself an indelible part of all their young lives and these kids thought nothing of it.
The kids even collected scrap metal (for the war effort) dressed as servile robots, for Christ sakes.
Just Like a Disney Movie…
After the opening, Jojo is talking to himself in the mirror (how many times have we seen this in film?) with an imaginary Hitler providing him with guidance (okay, how many times have we NOT seen this in film?).
Jojo’s nerves are acting up. He has to prove himself among his peers, as any 10 year-old would. After some pep talk from Papa Hitler, Jojo takes off and enters the whimsical world of 1944 Germany. The vibrant colors of the production design encapsulated Jojo’s carefree worldview.
Jojo attends a Boy Scout camp (Hitler Jugend, if you will) and watches a battle-hardened Captain hitting targets in comically-ridiculous poses. He participates in a book burning with all of his brainwashed peers, all with celebratory dispositions to boot.
Put any kid in any scenario in any era, this is what they’ll see: They’ll see the world as a magical place.
Such is the indestructible nature of childlike gaiety.
Sadly, such gaiety makes children susceptible to a narcissist’s manipulative advances. The imaginary Hitler offered Jojo a cigarette three times in the first act. It’s well-documented that Hitler despised smoking because of its health risks. So why offer one to a susceptible kid?
Hey, no one accused Hitler of being a nice guy!
Now, the first act of Jojo is probably why it was controversial. And a box office disappointment. The image of a young boy and a jubilant Hitler leaping through the air like two kids at Chuck E. Cheese’s was…a bit jarring.
Hey, I’ll be the first to admit the unorthodox marketing campaign rubbed me the wrong way (I confess!).
You’re making a complex Nazi period piece look like a kid’s movie, and expect parents to bring their kids to see it?!
Yeahhhh, just release it to Netflix next time.
Anyway, what we saw in the trailers was only the first act. All the criticism regarding its inappropriate tone toward Nazism isn’t based in fact.
Critics who bashed this movie, with that line of reasoning, clearly didn’t see it past the first thirty minutes.
The Plot Thickens…and Darkens
As the film goes on, its tone shifts to a more dreary, hopeless one as the Fall of Berlin nears. Food is scarce. The power starts to go out. The local authorities are regarding him with suspicion. Suddenly, all the comforts of childhood are but a thing of the past.
One day, Jojo chases a butterfly in the public square, eager to cling to a whimsical vestige of his childhood. And there he saw it.
When Jojo saw his mother’s dead body, hanging from a noose, his childhood ended. Childhood always ends with a gut punch.
When reality kicks in as we come of age, it hurts. A lot. Jojo got a reality check along with all the citizens of the Fatherland.
Childhood’s Painful End
Through Jojo’s eyes, we saw the carefree, whimsical time that was pre-1945 Nazi Germany. A time where his countrymen were eager to showcase Germany’s might to the world.
Alas, it was not to be. Jojo, along with all of Germany, were mired in a self-destructive and willful state of childhood naiveté. Then reality came. Like a gut punch (or hail of mortars, what have you).
Thanks for your time, guys.
So, I just thought of something. Maybe I could’ve named this article “Age of the Lost Kids.”
Probably would’ve scanned better. “Kits” is just stupid.
Anyway, auf wiedersehen! 😀