If there’s one thing that will be unanimously agreed upon regarding Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit: It’s a movie for our time. Waititi has said that throughout his press appearances at TIFF, and we had the chance to speak with him to expand on that notion during his red carpet appearance for the opening night of Fantastic Fest.
“I knew that the themes were still relevant but it wasn’t until 2018 that I realized how much more relevant it was waiting that long and that wasn’t by design,” Waititi told The Pop Break in reference to the film being put on hold since 2011. “It just so happened to be coincidence that the Nazis became popular again, weirdly, especially in this country. And that became relevant.”
The result is self-evident to the politically conscious. How well it accomplishes its goals as a satire is already up for debate. With the top TIFF prize under its belt, it has an army of supports awaiting Oscar. That also comes with strong opponents, and those mixed on the matter like our Matt Taylor who saw it in Toronto. It’s an undoubtedly dark movie that Taika Waititi said he insists is not a comedy but a drama with “a few jokes” in there.
That might be an understatement as a good portion is devoted to mocking Nazi leadership and ideology.
“I love watching films that are sitting in quite dark environments but finding more fun, the light in those places,” Waititi explained.
But what may be up for even greater debate than its politics is Waititi’s authorship and style.
Painted with an array of pastels and greens while being occupied by characters akin to Moonrise Kingdom, the bridge to Wes Anderson is not that far away. During the Fantastic Fest screening Q&A, the moderator posited inspiration from Mel Brooks among other influences, to which Waititi said he had not seen the cited examples.
While the director and screenwriter admitted he did not draw from those particular influences, Stephen Merchant said he pulled influence from Brooks films and the like for his role late in the film.
He was also giddy about how the film felt like a Monty Python product, one that’s filled with show stopping performances where every character steals the scene (however much of an oxymoron that is.) While not a direct proposition of Taika Waititi’s intent, the utter silliness on display at times combined with social commentary is certainly present like Python (i.e. the repressed citizen from The Holy Grail).
“I think it was there from the beginning and I think the thing that surprised me when I saw the finished film was that even though it begins with a quiet scene in Monty Python’s sense of style,” Merchant told The Pop Break on the red carpet. “By the end, it is very emotional. It felt very moving and very powerful which is something Python has never pulled off. But it’s a very hard thing to do, to go from big laughs to art.”
Taika Waititi said he much prefers to create on his own terms using his own style — use of slow motion, anachronistic and regional style needle drops, misplaced kids — to tell the story. However, he did reveal two influences.
In general, he referred to Dr. Strangelove as an influence in terms of its zany takedown of authority. An audience member correctly suggested the film’s use of a butterfly to introduce a turning point in the film was a nod to All Quiet on the Western Front as well, which Waititi confirmed was a purposeful homage.
By in large, Jojo Rabbit is a Waititi creation all its own that only briefly parallels other era-defining projects and artists today. As Merchant said, it’s not often a film balances the zany with heartfelt (if not heartbreaking) messaging, and that’s brought straight to the surface after waiting in the wings for the better part of the decade.