Disclaimer: The article contains spoilers from Jojo Rabbit.
Jojo Rabbit is the story of a ten-year-old Hitler ‘fan’ and Nazi loyalist Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, whose perception of the ideal world comes crashing down when he interacts with a Jewish girl for the first time.
To match a child’s naivety with the harsh reality of Nazi Germany is a tough task. And yet, debut actor Roman Griffin Davis delivers a performance so exceptionally brilliant, that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Davis presents Jojo’s world with such honesty, that the film’s absurdity is easier to buy into, and consequently, its cruelty difficult to digest.
Yes, it’s Taika Waititi’s directorial vision, but ultimately, it’s Davis’ execution that elevates the film from being just another satirical, black comedy.
Jojo is a ten-year-old who, in his very short life, has lost both his father and his sister. His coping mechanism is to talk to his fictional best friend, Adolf Hitler.
Such devastating loss, so early in his life, has drilled in him a desire to be a part of a group. And there is no group more ‘coveted’ in Nazi Germany, than Hitler Youth. But his ideas are perpetuated by what his innocent brain has been fed. And when he comes face to face with the reality, he begins to shed the ideas he had been fed and build on his own ideals.
Davis expertly handles this crucial phase of every kid’s life – where they first start becoming their own person, and question both, society and family.
What Davis really nails is the ability to keep the innocence alive, despite coming face to face with war crimes and personal losses. The idea of fighting for Germany may have motivated him, but the reality of bombs scare the living daylights out of him. As his ‘first love’ says, he is not a Nazi but only a kid wishing to be accepted.
While Davis is undoubtedly the star of the movie, he is ably supported by his on-screen best friend, the adorable Yorki played by Archie Yates.
Yorki is the very definition of a supportive best friend, who looks out for Jojo even though he is only Jojo’s ‘second’ best friend.
If the film is a journey of Jojo’s transformation from an innocent, misguided kid to a more experienced, but still naive child, then Yorki is the rudder that keeps his boat sailing.
Yorki is the calm to Jojo’s storm, the only pure thing in Jojo’s world. He cries for Jojo’s loss, hides his secrets, and cheers when Jojo finds an ‘almost’ girlfriend.
However, it’s in the scenes that a viewer might miss that Yates really brings alive Yorki’s pure soul. Like the time that Jojo is bullied, and Yorki is slightly out of frame, but very visibly upset. Or when his first reaction at Germany’s defeat, is to hug his mother. Or how, for him, accidentally blowing up a shop is just that – an accident. Akin to perhaps accidentally breaking a flowerpot.
Throughout the film, Yorki and Jojo’s friendship remains an undiluted, warm light shining through the darkness of Nazi crimes. And every time the two appear on-screen, no matter the tone of the scene, you can’t help but smile.
Thomasin McKenzie does complete justice to her role of the Jewish girl Elsa, forced to hide in attics in order to survive. And Waititi manages to make a caricature out of a personality as hated as Hitler, without undermining the role Hitler played in Jewish persecution.
But ultimately, its Davis who grips your heart with every scene. It’s because of his natural, convincing screen presence that even the expected emotional moments tug at your heartstrings and leave you feeling constricted.
For such a young, debut actor to leave such an indelible impact through his performance is not only an indication of his talent but in my humble opinion, also the perfect reason why he should win every award there is. Yes, even the Oscar, if only he was nominated for it.
Having said that, I’ll admit that while Davis left me visibly impressed, Yates wormed his way into my heart. I don’t think he is leaving anytime soon.