Jojo Rabbit has got to be one of my favourite things I’ve watched this year. It has such an incredible balance of comedy and tragedy and makes full use of its sweet character moments to rip your heart out later. The movie reveals a very poignant fact while following the titular Jojo through his life in Nazi Germany – that the biggest losers of war are the children who never knew any better.
Jojo is a mere 10 years old when he’s recruited into the Hitler youth. The violence and hatred was his normal. All the cool people were doing it, including his idol, Hitler himself. And so, Jojo sets out to prove he’s in with the rest of them. He parades their rhetoric childishly. In his bravado, he claims to be able to kill a rabbit, no problem, when the older boys egg him on.
And yet Jojo, instinctively, is just unable to kill it. In his heart, he knows he cannot. Not because he’s scared, but because he just feels it’s wrong. It’s vulnerable, helpless and killing it served no purpose. It was just violence for the sake of it. The propaganda and hatred sows a deep disconnect between what the mind is taught and what the heart understands.
This poor child is then left to reconcile with the system of hatred he is indoctrinated into while his experiences continue to tell him otherwise. When Jojo meets the little Jewish girl in his walls, he learns that on the other side is just a person. Not a monster or demon like he was told. Just a person trying to live.
More shockingly, this person is exciting, interesting and even attractive. This person is alive, has her own world and has a name – Elsa. Jojo can’t help but be drawn by her, and slowly starts developing feelings for her as he learns of her struggles.
For Elsa, her normal is snatched away from her by the war. She was told that she and her family deserved to die for merely existing. She knows this cannot be true, but the world around her takes this narrative as gospel. How confusing and terrifying it is to be hated for merely existing – even more so as a child trying to make sense of the world.
As their worlds collide and collapse, Jojo learns the the disconnect he feels is something many other people realise too, but are unable to do anything much about. Some ignore it, some try to do what they can to resist the system. But it’s a dangerous thing to fight such a system – as Jojo finds out when he loses his mother who tried.
In the end, by the time the war ends, both children are left with nothing. No society, no family, no one. They were born into a world that failed them – and yet, they are the ones who end up being the biggest losers.