Jojo Rabbit is a 2019 American satirical war comedy film written and directed by Taika Waititi, based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies.
Roman Griffin Davis portrays the title character, Johannes “Jojo Rabbit” Betzler, a Hitler Youth member who finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic.
Jojo must then question his beliefs, while dealing with the intervention of his imaginary friend, a fanciful version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi).
The film also stars Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, and Sam Rockwell.
Johannes “Jojo” Betzler is a ten-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany during the later stages of World War II with his mother Rosie. His absent father is supposedly serving on the Italian Front but has lost all contact and his older sister Inge has recently died of influenza. The jingoistic Jojo often talks with his imaginary friend, a supportive but childish version of Adolf Hitler.
Jojo and his best friend Yorki attend a Deutsches Jungvolk Hitler Youth training camp, run by the one-eyed Wehrmacht Captain Klenzendorf. When Jojo is ordered to kill a rabbit by older Hitler Youth members, he tries to release it and runs off crying after the other boys taunt him with the name “Jojo Rabbit”. After a pep talk from Adolf, Jojo returns and throws a Stielhandgranate without permission. Unfortunately, the grenade bounces off a tree and explodes at his feet, leaving him with facial scars and a slight limp.
While Jojo recovers, Rosie asks Klenzendorf, demoted after the incident, to make her son feel included despite his injuries. Jojo is given small tasks such as spreading propaganda leaflets throughout town, and collecting scrap metal for the war effort.
Alone at home one day, Jojo discovers Elsa Korr, a teenage Jewish girl and his late sister’s former classmate, hiding upstairs. Jojo threatens to turn her over to the Gestapo, but Elsa warns that his mother would be killed for hiding her. Jojo reluctantly agrees to keep her safe, on the condition she reveals her “Jew secrets” so he can write a book for Klenzendorf, which amuses him.
Elsa plays along by making up stories about Jewish powers, such as mind-reading. Angry with his mother for hiding a Jew but unable to reveal his knowledge of Elsa, Jojo accuses Rosie of being unpatriotic and laments that his father is away. Rosie dismisses his accusations and espouses her belief that positivity and optimism are the best ways to be free of oppression.
Jojo continues to interrogate Elsa, learning she has a boyfriend called Nathan with whom she wants to reunite when the war is over. Jojo forges a letter from “Nathan” that he has found someone else and wants to break up with Elsa. Hearing her crying, Jojo writes another letter retracting the first one. This causes an argument between Jojo and Adolf, with Adolf insisting that Elsa is a monster. Later, while on one of his metal collecting trips, Jojo spots his mother leaving a “free Germany” message in town.
Jojo is home one day when the Gestapo, led by their leader Deertz, visit his house. Klenzendorf also happens to arrive at the house while it is being searched. Elsa reveals herself, pretending to be Inge, and produces Inge’s papers and confirms her birthday from memory to quell the Gestapo’s suspicions. Whereas Jojo is relieved, Elsa later realises she recited the wrong date and Klenzendorf covered for her, but is certain the Gestapo will eventually realize the deception. Later that day, Jojo finds his mother has been hanged in the town square. Devastated, he returns home and stabs Elsa in the shoulder, then breaks down as Elsa comforts him.
Jojo runs into Yorki, now a soldier, who tells him of Hitler’s suicide and that the Allies are closing in. Jojo encounters Fraulein Rahm arming and sacrificing children as the battle rages where she gives him a soldier’s coat before being killed herself in an explosion. Facing the American and Soviet forces, the city’s garrison surrenders. The Soviets force several captured Germans into a backyard, including Jojo. A wounded Klenzendorf tells Jojo his mother was a good woman, and saves him by removing his coat, calling him a Jew, and spitting on him, leading the Soviet guards to drag him away. The soldiers expel Jojo, who runs away as shots are heard.
Jojo runs home and, to stop Elsa leaving, tells her that Germany won the war. Recognizing her despair, he recites a new “letter” from her boyfriend claiming that he and Jojo have figured out a way to smuggle her to Paris. Elsa confesses that her boyfriend died the previous year before Jojo expresses his feelings toward her, and she tells him she loves him in a “little brother” way. A dishevelled Adolf angrily confronts Jojo for siding with Elsa before Jojo kicks him out the window. Jojo takes Elsa outside, where she realises the Allies have won after seeing American soldiers. After Elsa slaps Jojo in the face for lying, they dance in the street together.
In 2000, Christine Leunens researched the Hitler Youth and WWII Vienna context of Caging Skies at the Memorial de Caen in Normandy. It is about a member of the Hitler youth in Vienna, who “discovers his parents are hiding a young Jewish woman behind a false wall in their home”.
Film director Taika Waititi adapted Caging Skies for film in his 2019 release Jojo Rabbit.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Taika Waititi.
- Producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, and Chelsea Winstanley.
- Writer: Taika Waititi.
- Music: Michael Giacchino.
- Cinematography: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
- Editor: Tom Eagles.
- Production: TSG Entertainment, Defender Films, and Piki Films.
- Distributor: FOx Searchlight Pictures.
- Release Date: 08 September 2019 (Toronto International Film Festival) and 18 October 2019 (US).
- Running Time: 108 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.