JoJo Rabbit is a heartwarming, thought-provoking movie that will make you laugh until you cry—it might even make you cringe. Is it okay to laugh at the absurdity of JoJo’s imaginary conjuring of Hitler? Is it okay that I feel light while watching a movie about World War II? These might be some of the things you may wonder as you watch…
But isn’t that just how life goes? There are things to celebrate and there are things to grieve. Sometimes in the same day, or even in the same minute. We don’t shame or despise someone because they are in a different emotional spot than us—one the same day we lose a loved one, a baby might be born to another. This is the way of life on earth—we live in the tension of celebration and suffering. The Bible has a familiar teaching on this, “be glad with those who celebrate, share tears with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
In the midst of suffering, we still celebrate birthdays. In the middle of the pandemic, there are still nights filled with laughter. And in Nazi Germany, during a war, there were moments of dancing and joy. Lightness, in JoJo Rabbit, is achieved through the growing, impending reality that the war is ending and the Nazis are being overthrown on all sides.
JoJo is an exemplary little Nazi, completely indoctrinated in the ways that Hitler would’ve dreamed. JoJo’s conscience or imaginary friend is a comical, casual version of the tyrant—who is portrayed as funny, friendly, yet quickly fierce, but especially unreasonable. And JoJo is loyal to Hitler by any means—he would even kill for him…well…maybe… Even though JoJo dresses and talks as though he supports Hitler with his whole being, we are quick to notice the quiver in his voice and doubt in his eyes.
JoJo is injured in the first part of the movie and is no longer able to participate in Hitler’s Nazi training for youth. Instead, he is stuck at home, doing physical therapy, and hanging up propaganda posters around Germany. JoJo is confronted with a dilemma as he discovers that his mom has been hiding a Jewish girl named Inga in the walls of his late sister’s bedroom. JoJo is completely terrified—as he has been told that Jews can control minds and have scales, but when he finds out that turning his mom in will mean death for her and probably him, he decides it best to use Inga as a way to learn as much as possible about Jews for his book, Yoohoo Jew.
Along the way, JoJo realizes that Inga isn’t so bad after all, in fact he even develops a little crush for her. She is kind, witty, and intelligent and JoJo enjoys their conversations. We see how JoJo cares for Inga, how he shows her genuine love and kindness, and how the barriers of race and prejudice are knocked down because of relationships. One glaring token stood out to me at the end of the movie, it is really hard to hate someone you are in a relationship with. As we sit across the table from someone, share a meal and a laugh, we might be struck by our similarities rather than the things we disagree on.
JoJo Rabbit shows us a beautiful picture of how one relationship can change our worldview, unhealthy beliefs, and renew of sense of love and child-likeness in our hearts. JoJo sees the effects of the war and in the end—sees the destruction and death it costs—including the death of his own mother. He understands the phrase afresh that she spoke to him when they walked past bodies hanging in the town square, “they did what they could”. JoJo was in many ways trying to be an adult in a little boy’s body, but we see his vulnerability grow as he loses people he loves, who have cared for him and even protected him from death. We see him change and grow and in turn, care and love others through his words and actions. JoJo, becomes anti-Hitler by the end of the film, he even tells imaginary Hitler to “fuck off”, and when the war is over, he dances in the streets with Inga.
JoJo is a ten-year-old boy who sees the value in a human life that lives tucked away in his own home. This life, of a teenage girl he was taught to hate and be scared of, changed his perspective, his outlook, and his behavior. As we move toward our enemies, those we are scared of, or those we hate—we can be reminded of this story and how being in relationship with those people might help us gain understanding and perspective. Jesus walked among the sinners, Pharisees, and outcasts and maybe, like JoJo, we can take a step toward those we have all but written off and be their neighbor (their Nathan if you’ve seen the movie).
Questions to Consider:
What were some observations you made while watching this film? Did it make you feel uncomfortable, cautious, hopeful, etc.?
What were some of the feelings you had toward JoJo? Did those feelings change throughout the film? How did you see JoJo change throughout the film?
Were there any scenes in particular that reminded you of the gospel narrative (CRRR)?