Jojo Rabbit may be an effective period piece with a brilliant production design and performances. Peel back these layers and you’ll find something unexpected: perhaps the greatest love story in all of cinematic history. No, really.
I first watched Jojo Rabbit the day it was released to physical media. I wrote my review of it two days later and gave it a resounding A. Sure, you can put an invisible ‘+’ after it.
‘A’ is the highest grade I’ll ever give (that’s the douchebag college professor in me talking). 😏
In my first review, I singled out Scarlett and Taika for praise but there was so much I didn’t cover. I barely mentioned Elsa, the Jewish girl. Hell, I barely even mentioned the main character.
The crux of the whole story is Jojo’s three relationships and how they develop overtime: One with his mother, the other with his imaginary tyrant friend, and finally the one with his captive.
I already covered the first two. The third is where it gets interesting.
During my first viewing, JJR had already won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, but one scene was a head scratcher: the one where Jojo writes a fake letter addressed to Elsa.
He reads the letter out loud, pretending it’s from Nathan, Elsa’s fiance. Basically, Jojo wanted to convince her that Nathan didn’t love her anymore and wanted to call off the engagement.
This reduces Elsa to tears. Garbage thing to do, that.
But I remember thinking, “Who in the right mind would fall for that? It was such an obvious petty lie made up by an immature 10-year-old. Elsa took it at face value for no discernible reason.”
I didn’t know what was worse, Jojo’s personality or the writing.
Then toward the end of the film, it made sense.
What Elsa Knew
Elsa knew her fiance was dead all along. She knew Jojo falsified the letter. Elsa didn’t cry because she thought Nathan hated her.
She wept because the letter was a projection of Jojo’s own thoughts and she saw that Jojo didn’t love her back.
Spoiler alert. Yeah, Elsa loved Jojo.
The nature of her love towards him is a bit obscure. Is it romantic or maternal?
The Nature of Love
If it’s romantic, it’s peculiar considering Jojo hadn’t started puberty yet (Elsa is in her late teens).
If it’s maternal, it’s reasonable because Elsa took after Jojo’s mother, i.e. her savior who provided her with shelter during the Holocaust.
But if it was strictly maternal, why would she see Jojo as a stand-in for Nathan? Jojo only saw Elsa as a replacement for Inge (his deceased sister). Elsa was occupying Inge’s room, after all.
His love for her was purely fraternal, no question about it. He was too young to understand anything beyond that. A reason Jojo‘s love story works is it nullifies the aspect of sex.
But back to Elsa, a more important question to ask is: why love Jojo at all?
He’s the embodiment of how childishly naive the Nazi ideology was. Why would a Jew love a Nazi in 1944-45, of all eras?
Was her love romantic? Or was it maternal?
Then I thought, “why couldn’t it be both?”
How Does Love Form and Grow?
What if true love starts out being maternal and ends up being romantic?
Think of mothers: They want their kids to be the best they can be.
If their kids are dirty, they want them clean. If they’re rowdy, they want them settled. If they’re wounded, they want them healed.
That’s maternal love. (Yes, that love can be paternal, too)
But what if, just what if, on some basic level, romantic love has to start out as maternal?
What if, subconsciously, we know our would-be partners are broken somehow, and we want to fix them?
Fix What’s Broken
We, humans, want to fix what’s broken. We want to complete what isn’t finished. We want to fill every possible hole we find (apologies).
What if that prompted Elsa to love Jojo? She saw that he was broken and confused to the point her safety was at risk. Yet, she loved him regardless.
Elsa loved him because he needed love. She saw a hole and she filled it. That’s love.
At the end, she knew he wasn’t old enough to understand it, but that’s okay, she could wait. Love requires a willingness to wait.
Your partner may not be perfect at present, but with time, you can brush off their dirt, calm their nerves, and heal their wounds. Like any parent would.
Let’s End this Fling
… Crap, my intent was to write a blog and I wrote an essay instead. This got me ruminating about the nature of love, as the first one got me thinking about the nature of family.
This is what happens when I think about movies I’m so passionate about. I dissect the ever-loving hell out of them! 😀
Well, thanks for reading, guys!