Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Thomasin McKenzie, Stephen Merchant, Roman Griffin Davis
Director: Taika Waititi
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 108 minutes
Synopsis: Writer director Taika Waititi, brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, Jojo Rabbit, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.
Jojo Rabbit with a screenplay by and directed by Taika Waititi is based upon the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens and stars Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, with Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson. The producers are Carthew Neal, Waititi and Chelsea Winstanley. The behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Mihai Malaimare, production designer Ra Vincent, editor Tom Eagles, music composer Michael Giacchino, costume designer Mayes Rubeo, make-up and hair designer Dannelle Satherley and visual effects supervisor Jason Chen.
Release Date: December 26th, 2019
"I have always been drawn to stories that see life through children's eyes. In this case, it happens to be a kid that we might not normally invest in.
My grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II and I've always been fascinated by that time and those events. When my mother told me about Christine Leunen's book Caging Skies, I was drawn in by the fact it was told through the eyes of a German child indoctrinated into hate by adults.
Having children of my own, I have become even more aware that adults are supposed to guide children through life and raise them to be better versions of themselves, and yet in times of war, adults are often doing the opposite. In fact, from a child's point of view, during these times adults appear chaotic and absurd when all the world needs is guidance and balance.
I experienced a certain level of prejudice growing up as a Māori Jew, so making Jojo Rabbit has been a reminder, especially now, that we need to educate our kids about tolerance and continue to remind ourselves that there's no place in this world for hate.
Children are not born with hate, they are trained to hate. I hope the humour in Jojo Rabbit helps engage a new generation; it's important to keep finding new and inventive ways of telling the horrific story of World War II again and again for new generations, so that our children can listen, learn, and move forward, unified into the future.
Here's to putting an end to ignorance and replacing it with love."
"Jojo Betzler, ten and a half years old: today you join the ranks of the Jungvolk… You are in peak mental and physical condition. You have the body of a panther and the mind of… a brainy panther. You are a shiny example of shiny perfection." -Jojo Betzler
Jojo Rabbit offers a sharply funny, yet profoundly stirring, child's-eye view of a society gone mad with intolerance. Drawing on his own Jewish heritage and his experiences growing up surrounded by prejudice, writer-director Taika Waititi (whose mother is Jewish, while his father is Māori) makes a powerful statement against hate with this pitch-black satire of the Nazi culture that gripped the German psyche at the height of WWII. Waititi takes a story almost too appalling to approach with sober solemnity"that of a boy who, like many at that time, has been brainwashed into absolutely gung-ho devotion to Hitler. He then mines from it a dark, mesmerizing comedy that ultimately unravels the toxic ideas of anti-Semitism and persecution of the other. Balancing on a comedic high-wire, Waititi mixes the fury of satire with an insistent sense of hope that fanaticism and hate can be overcome.
The film follows very much in the footsteps of some of Waititi's personal filmmaking heroes: Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch and Stanley Kubrick to name a few. Like those directors, Waititi was in search of a fresh way to re-visit the most unsettling of topics through the paradoxically moral force of out-and-out parody. Waititi echoes Brooks in particular, as a Jewish actor disrupting the enduring power of Hitler's image with a zany, ridiculing portrait. But much as the film owes to its bold forbearers, Jojo Rabbit feels very much of our times, with its deeply human characters whose blinded foibles might amuse but whose inner predicaments are deadly real and pointedly relevant right now.
Based on Christine Leunens' acclaimed novel Caging Skies, first published in 2004, the story begins in fictional Falkenheim. In this quaint town under Nazi rule, the end of the war is rapidly approaching. However, in 6 10-year-old Jojo Betzler's bedroom, anticipation is mounting. For today, he finally has the chance he's been waiting all his 10 years for: to join the Jungvolk, aka The Hitler Youth. To Jojo, so credulously gullible and susceptible to the pervasive propaganda that surrounds him, it feels like his first opportunity to do something big and important, to help protect the single mother he loves beyond anything, and maybe even to feel like he belongs.
To sooth his insecurities, Jojo brings along an outsized imaginary friend: a clownish, hare-brained apparition of Hitler, who with all the emotions of a child dispenses advice Jojo might have sought from his absent father. With Adolf in his head, Jojo feels invincible. But in fact, Jojo's troubles are just beginning. Humiliated (and nearly decapitated) in the Jungvolk camp, his frustration only grows deeper.
Then, Jojo makes a discovery that slowly, yet radically, transforms how he sees the world. Chasing what he believes to be some kind of phantasm, he finds instead that his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in the wall at terrible risk to them all. The shock nearly undoes him"here is the "danger" he's been warned about living in his own home, under his own nose, mere feet from where he regularly confides in his imaginary friend Hitler. But as Jojo endeavors to keep tabs on the mysterious Elsa, his fear and vigilance grow into something even Adolf cannot seem to fathom. For the more he gets to know Elsa as a person, the more she becomes someone Jojo can't imagine allowing anyone, including his Nazi idols, to harm.
While Jojo Rabbit is very much a comic allegory about the costs of letting bigotry take hold, whether in your bedroom or a nation, Jojo also takes a very real journey as a child coming-of-age. For in finding the courage to open his mind, he discovers the power of love to change your path.
Waititi says his hope for the movie was always pure, unabashed disruption. He wanted to upend his own comfort zone but also any notion that stories about the Nazi era have been played out, especially when the lessons of those times are so urgent right now. With nationalism, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious and racial intolerance on the rise, the stakes of grabbing people's attention felt sky-high.
"I knew I didn't want to make a straight-out drama about hatred and prejudice because we've become just so used to that style of drama," Waititi explains. "When something seems a little too easy, I like to bring in chaos. I've always believed comedy is the best way to make an audience more comfortable. So, in Jojo Rabbit, I bring the audience in with laughter, and once they've dropped their guard, then start delivering these little payloads of drama that have serious weight to them."
For novelist Leunens, Waititi's compacted, and more cuttingly humorous, take on her book was a beautiful use of comedy in the service of conveying a story of immense gravity. "In Taika's films, laughs are never free," Leunens notes. "There are strings attached. Even if you don't see them right away, you'll feel them. It's after the laugh that the strings start to be felt, drawing one's consciousness to things that aren't quite right, aren't entirely funny, into deeper, more complex emotions"amongst these, the realization of the absurdity of the situation, and the tragedy and pain."
Creating Jojo Rabbit
"Promise me one thing, will you? When this is all over and the world is normal, try to be a kid again?" -Rosie Betzler
Nazis were parodied on screen as early as the 1940s when they were still very much a global threat"with the key being that the last laugh was always on them. As Mel Brooks once said: "If you can reduce Hitler to something laughable, you win."
The tradition would stretch from Chaplin (The Great Dictator), Lubitsch (To Be Or Not To Be) and Brooks (The Producers), to John Boorman (Hope And Glory), Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) and even Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds).
It often sparked controversy. The Jewish comedian Jack Benny's own father was said to have walked out of the theater at the shock of his son portraying a Gestapo officer in To Be Or Not To Be. But the film also moved generations, and today is considered a masterful example of how the most ferociously irreverent satire can become a springboard to multi-faceted, humanistic storytelling.
Stephen Merchant, who plays a drippingly dark Nazi Captain in Jojo Rabbit, notes: "Both during and after the war, Hitler was routinely mocked because it was a way of people dealing with the horror they were seeing. Taika is following in that same tradition, but with his own modern voice."
Waititi's refreshingly different voice first came to the fore in a series of offbeat yet poignant comedies with a personal, handmade feel including Eagle vs. Shark and Boy. On the heels of acclaim for his vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows and the comedy adventure Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Marvel tapped him to bring his mad creativity to Thor: Ragnarok. (He also played Korg in the latter, a role he reprised in Avengers: Endgame.)
Jojo Rabbit would in many ways become kind of the culmination of his career"mixing the emotionally intimate and eccentrically funny with epic themes that lit a personal fire for him. But the seed of the film actually began with Waititi's mother – a New Zealand native whose Russian Jewish family immigrated in the early 1900s. It was she who first read Christine Leunens' Caging Skies and recounted to Waititi the story of a boy whose avid belief in Hitler is turned upside down when he discovers that his family is hiding a Jewish girl behind a false wall in the attic.
"She told him about the book, thinking it could be something for him," notes producer Carthew Neal. "When Taika read it, he realized it was more serious than he'd imagined, but had the heart and gravity required in this kind of story. He was then able to springboard from this, adding his special touches and bring it into his comic and tonal universe."
Says Waititi: "The book is more of a drama, though it has comic moments. But I felt if I was going to tackle this subject, I had to bring my own personality and style to it. That meant more fantastical elements and obviously more humor, creating a kind of dance between drama and satire."
Waititi amazed Leunens by creating something like a jazz riff on her book, whipping up the structure of her story into an antic allegory of how fear mongering can take root in naïve minds"and how love can come out of left field to topple down the walls we put up against other people. "If the book is a classical, panel painting, Taika's film is more like Picasso's Guernica," muses Leunens. "He found a spot for all the most essential scenes, but he added in many of his own touches."
Indeed, Waititi brought his own private familiarity with the pervasiveness of bigotry in today's world to Jojo Rabbit. "Most of the prejudice I've experienced has been because of the color of my skin," he explains. "Traditionally in New Zealand, there's been prejudice against Māori people. I did experience that growing up, and I learned to kind of brush it off, which is not a great thing, but you do what you have to do. Still, I think I wound up subverting a lot of these feelings into comedy. That's why I feel very comfortable poking fun at the people who think it's clever to hate someone for who they are."
As he began writing, Waititi was hooked most of all by the idea that Elsa, the Jewish girl who emerges from the wall, transforms Jojo in spite of himself. "The thing I zeroed in on was trying to create a friendship between two people who are, in their minds, total enemies. I like the dynamic where, contrary to what Jojo expects, Elsa holds most of the cards and calls the shots," he says. "But also, they are in a Catch-22 that binds them together because both face terrible stakes if their secret gets out."
Also vital to Waititi was creating all the Nazis in the film to be ridiculous and mockable, but also human, full of all the same flaws and quirks as the rest of us"which makes their participation in the fascist realm that much more of a chilling warning of how easily malevolent ideologies can take root on a large scale. This is especially true of Jojo, who initially reveres what he sees as Hitler's might, until he sees in Elsa and his mother a principled strength that is so much greater.
"It was important to me that Jojo be clearly seen as a 10-year-old-boy who really doesn't know anything," Waititi explains. "He just basically loves the idea of dressing in a uniform and being accepted. That's how the Nazis indoctrinated kids, really, by making them feel part of this really cool gang."
While Jojo grows older in Leunens' book, Waititi anchors the film in a 10-year-old's wide-eyed POV the whole way. "I was interested in the idea of seeing the madness of war and hate, something grown-ups very much manifest, through the eyes of a child," he says. "Adults are supposed to be the people who guide children and raise them to be better versions of ourselves. Yet when children look at us in times of war, I think adults seem ridiculous and out of their minds. So, I approached the story as a child trying to make sense of his world the best he can in the most absurd and chaotic time in history."
Still, Waititi knew he had to give audiences a reason to follow Jojo into his world. "I had to find ways of letting you care about Jojo," he explains. "One way was to show that in truth he feels bullied, scared and insignificant in the larger scheme of things, and he has grand dreams, as all kids have."
In another departure, Waititi placed a resilient mother-son bond at the heart of his movie. He turned Rosie Betzler not only into a single mother, but also a defiant woman who decides that so long as ideals of empathy and tolerance are being pushed to the margins, she will work fearlessly to uphold them. Contrary to Jojo, she sees all too clearly the poisonous world Hitler is forging, so her natural response is to help, as she says, by "doing what she can""which in her passionately practical way is a lot. But that also means hiding the truth of her life from Jojo to keep him safe, while hoping her little boy comes to his senses.
"There are a lot of powerful women in my life so I also wanted this to be a story about a really strong solo mom who is trying to save her son and others from this horrible situation, but at the same time trying to retain Jojo's innocence," says Waititi. "A main touchstone for me was Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. I've always loved Ellen Burstyn's portrait of a mother in that film because she's goofy and fun and reminds me of my mom, so that was something I aimed for with Rosie."
While the film invites in such anachronisms as Beatles and Bowie tunes, as he wrote, Waititi immersed himself in WWII books and documentaries. "I read a lot about the German psyche before the war, and the question of how it was possible to indoctrinate the entire country, how they preyed upon the desperation of the people after a depression," he explains. "I watched some documentaries, like World War Ii In Colour and Hitler's Children, The Hiltler Youth, to get a sense of how things really looked. I wanted to be mostly accurate, playing only with music, palette and the language."
The more Waititi wrote, the more Jojo's awakening seemed to mirror how the world reacted after WWII: stunned by a collective human loss of innocence, then uniting to affirm that hateful ideas would never again be allowed to take hold like that. And yet, the times are changing again.
"Around the time we were going into production, we started seeing more and more resurgence of this way of thinking," notes Waititi, "and it became even more urgent to tell the story. I feel like I'm in good company with comedies like The Great Dictator where we're poking fun but also trying to warn how serious things are right now. It's also a reminder that Hitler was really recent in terms of human history and we've got to keep talking about it, because the dynamics that caused it aren't going away."
Waititi never held himself back in the writing, knowing that to say what he wanted to say he had to go for it unflinchingly. "As an artist you always want to challenge yourself, and if I don't worry that a project could be a disaster, then it's not really worth it for me," he confesses. "I like my work to feel dangerous enough going in that it could fail. Because that's when I start scrambling, I start trying to make it the best thing possible, and that's where I get the most creative and inventive."
When the script started making the rounds, that inventiveness became its attraction. Waititi's free use of contemporary dialogue especially appealed to actors, who loved how it seemed to have one foot firmly grounded in a vital reality, while the other was dancing into something far more off-the-wall.
Sam Rockwell fell hard for the script. "I thought it was brilliant and I don't say that lightly. I mean, what a mind Taika has," Rockwell says. "I remember reading that scene where Rosie is telling Jojo how powerful love is and Jojo says to her, 'I think you'll find that metal is the strongest thing in the world.' It's hilarious and refreshing but also such beautiful and touching writing."
Rockwell continues: "Taika has a sensibility that takes influences from Mel Brooks to the Marx Brothers and mixes that with storytelling that is incredibly poignant and relevant. He's able to walk that tightrope."
For Scarlett Johansson, who plays Jojo's vivacious mother Rosie, the appeal of the script was in the risks it takes"how Waititi interweaves farce and disaster, taking the story from black comedy to chaotic madness to a poignant sense of wonder. "What I found so beautiful about the story is the hopefulness that you come to feel in the end, which is so unexpected," Johansson says.
"Okay, two things. Thing number one: it's illegal for Nazis and Jews to hang out like we do, let alone kiss, so already it's out of the question. And thing number two: it would just be a sympathy kiss, which doesn't count." -Jojo Betzler
To make Jojo Rabbit come to life, first Waititi had to find a living, breathing Jojo. Could there possibly be a real-life boy who could embody the character's pinwheeling mix of blind gusto and untamed emotions in stride"while also carrying the film's deep themes and Jojo's profound transformation on his pint-sized shoulders? To answer the daunting question, Waititi and his casting team watched over 1,000 audition tapes. They undertook an exhaustive search, spanning from New Zealand and Australia to the UK, US, Canada and Germany. At last, the search came to an abrupt halt the minute they met 11-year-old Brit, Roman Griffin Davis.
Davis seemed to intuit, with a sophistication almost eerily beyond his years, how Jojo's simple yearning to be accepted, admired and loved gets contorted into serving a grim and malicious agenda.
Neal recalls, "Taika was looking for someone who had that sparkle in his eye and the extreme enthusiasm for life Jojo has. We immediately liked Roman, but then we also saw that he had the range to mix anger, anxiety, discovery and other subtle emotions into the humor. Roman's focus is incredibly impressive for a kid his age, and he was able to bring an unusual intensity to very difficult scenes."
Davis says his biggest inspiration was that he saw a chance to remind people of the harrowing history of bigotry, and how deeply it can affect not only entire societies, but especially children.
"I remember I once mentioned something about a swastika to a friend and he didn't know what it was. I told him it's the Nazi logo and he didn't even know what it looked like," Davis explains. "So, I hope that this film is going to remind people of what happened in Nazi Germany with a different kind of a story than you have ever seen before. What I love most about the film is that even though it is about some heavy stuff, and stuff that's really important, a lot of it is shown through humor and comedy."
Though it is his very first screen role, and though he was surrounded by intensive support from Waititi and his highly experienced cast mates, Davis still knew he faced a mountain of a task.
"Jojo is a very, very conflicted boy, so that was a big challenge," Davis admits. "When you first meet him, he truly believes all the propaganda he's seen. But you also see that he's just a sweet kid who doesn't really know what he's talking about! He's looking for something in the Nazis that is missing in his life. His father is gone, and his mum is busy with things she doesn't talk about, so he has no one except his imaginary friend, and he imagines that the only one who can really help him is Hitler."
Waititi says his aim in working with Davis was to let all Davis's natural reactions"and innate charisma"shine through. "Roman is a really endearing, beautiful kid, and when you hang out with him, you want to protect him. He has this very caring heart, and the idea was always that this would carry into the undercurrents of the character. There's a lot of Roman in the Jojo you see on screen."
On set, Waititi provided Davis with room to do his own exploring – but also utilized a coach in his long term collaborator Rachel House, who was the acting coach for both leads James Rolleston and Julian Dennison in his previous film's Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople.
Adding to that effect, the accomplished cast showered Davis with veteran tips. "In the course of the film, Roman became an amazing actor, partly from being around such great actors as Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen. He learned how to ask all the right questions," says Waititi.
Observes Rockwell, "Taika was really good at getting Roman to go deep into Jojo's experience"but in a way that Roman was always having fun. There's a real trick to that."
As part of his preparation, Davis researched the Hitler Youth, the organization first created in 1922 to indoctrinate kids and teens into Nazi ideology and train them to ultimately be tools of war. That gave him a sense of just how dark the reality of Jojo's world was, no matter how much he just wants it to be a glorious adventure, as any 10-year-old would.
"What the Nazis did to children was really awful," says Davis. "They wanted to have an army of fanatics to help them take over the world. I know now there were 16-year-old soldiers on the frontlines"and they were terrified but often the bravest and so many were killed."
Rounding out Jojo's insular world and playing the role of his lovable best friend Yorki is Archie Yates, who wholeheartedly embraces his character's distinct view of the world around him. Waititi says about Archie, "He's just as you would think - someone who brightened up the set and everyone loved. He's got a very different and unique way of seeing the world, he's very confident. A lot of the time he and Jojo just seem like the two most sane characters in the film."
As bizarre and unexpected as it was to interact with Hitler"for Davis, some of the most demanding scenes came as Jojo wrestles with how to react to Elsa, who he truly believes has devilish powers.
"It was really hard for me because Jojo at first is thinking to himself 'your entire race isn't trustworthy' and that felt so wrong," Davis says. "Here Elsa is basically living in a cave, almost starving and all alone, so it was difficult for me to find such strong feelings and go on pro-Nazi rants at her."
Yet, even Jojo cannot keep up his suspicion of Elsa for very long. While at first, he merely keeps her secret for fear of his mother getting arrested, the more he gets to know Elsa, the more he can't resist what starts to feel like an authentic, eye-opening friendship that is rocking his world. In many ways, Elsa has all the bravery and sense of dignity Jojo only dreams of having. When he starts writing her fake letters from her boyfriend Nathan, Jojo can't help but infuse them with his own growing infatuation.
"In spite of everything he thinks he's supposed to think, Jojo really starts to like her," Davis observes. "I believe it's quite confusing for him: how can he have such affection for Elsa despite his strong beliefs? It makes him question everything, even Hitler."
Thomasin McKenzie, ELSA
"We'll all be kaput if you tell one word about me…just one word… and I'll do the world a favor and cut your Nazi head off. Got it?" -Elsa
To play Elsa, the "girl in the wall" Jojo uncovers in shock, Waititi searched for a teen who could bring the steely strength and self-possession that defuses Jojo's distrust. She had to be mysterious enough to entice Jojo to want to know more, but with a humanity that strips away Jojo's illusions and confronts him with the discomfiting fact that everything he's been led to believe about Jews is all a terrible lie.
Most of all, Waititi wanted Elsa to take some joy in her power over Jojo. "Elsa's situation is so vulnerable the whole way through"trapped in this small crawlspace"but what Taika really wanted is to counter that by showing that Elsa is actually stronger and fiercer than anyone," says Neal.
Waititi found the confident, complicated grittiness he sought in New Zealand-based Thomasin McKenzie, who came to global attention last year in an extraordinary performance as a homeless girl living in the woods with her father in Debra Granik's Leave No Trace. "I knew Thomasin from New Zealand," Waititi notes. "And I knew she was a rising star with something really special."
While the character of Elsa represents nothing less than the hope and resilience of humanity when confronted with unbridled hate and evil…Waititi wanted her to equally feel like a feisty modern teen.
Waititi says, "All Jojo knows about Jews is from propaganda and the teachings at school which says they've got horns and devil tails and they're monstrous creatures. So, I wanted Elsa to be this really pretty, very cool girl who has this hard attitude, so he's instantly both fascinated and intimidated by her."
Moved by a story that "has a perspective I've never seen before," McKenzie dove into research. That and conversations with Waititi took her deeper into Elsa's psyche and helped her create a character who defies stereotypes. "I did a lot of personal research on what it was like to be a young Jewish girl during WWII," McKenzie says. "But I had formed in my mind a victimized idea of Elsa, and when I met with Taika, he told me to scrap that and to think of Elsa as a girl who isn't a victim at all and definitely doesn't see herself that way. I love that she has a lot of life and a lot of other layers to her."
Never compliant or passive, Elsa most vitally has a sense of mischief, which she employs to try to keep Jojo from reporting her. "Taika actually told me to watch the movie Heathers because that was the kind of character he had imagined for Elsa," notes McKenzie, referring to the cult classic 80s comedy about a precocious, self-aware clique of teen girls battling for high school popularity.
Waititi explains, "I wanted Thomasin to think of Elsa as one of the cool kids at school before all this happened. There needed to be in her a sort of resentment that she had to give up this quite fun life where she was popular and had a lot going on, and now she's in hiding with nothing. I also like that she kind of blames Jojo and all of his bad ideas for where she is."
McKenzie sees Elsa as mostly itching for freedom. "What I really love is that she doesn't want pity, she just wants to be able to live her life without all this crap happening," McKenzie says. "Of course, I've never had to hide in a life-or-death situation like she does, but I related to her as a teenage girl who before this happened was into boys and gossiping with her friends and doing things normal kids do and dream about. She didn't change from that person when she went into hiding."
Elsa's unusual introduction became a favorite scene for McKenzie. "At first, you don't really know if she's a monster or a ghost. You don't know who she is or what her intentions are. You're in Jojo's point of view, so you start off with a fear of Elsa. But then, like Jojo, you see more and more of who she is and all that she is going through. As Elsa and Jojo start to see each other more clearly, outside of all the propaganda that surrounds them, they develop a relationship almost like a brother and sister."
Working with Roman Griffin Davis only brought more of that out. "I first met Roman in rehearsal," McKenzie recalls. "He just waltzed in and was so confident and funny and unafraid. He was able to bring all these intense emotions I'm not sure anyone ever expected of a 11-year-old. I really admire the way he seemed to feel a big responsibility to tell Jojo's story."
In her brief but memorable scenes with Scarlett Johansson, McKenzie observes that a lot of mutual loss was communicated in few words, "You don't get to see the full extent of their relationship, but Rosie is someone that's saving her life and putting a lot on the line just to have Elsa in her house. Elsa feels admiration and a longing to establish a relationship, a longing to have a mother and someone to speak to."
Scarlett Johansson, Rosie Betzler
Rosie Betzler to Elsa: "You'll go to Morocco, take up lovers and make them suffer, look a tiger in the eye and learn to trust without fear. That's what it is to be a woman, or at least what it could be." -Rosie Betzler
Scarlett Johansson has played an alien, the subject of a Vermeer painting and Marvel's Black Widow among many others, but the role of Jojo's playful but also fiercely defiant mother, Rosie Betzler, was something new again.
Johansson already knew Waititi so when she heard about Jojo Rabbit she was immediately intrigued. Then, she encountered Rosie and she could not shake the character.
"What I love about Rosie is that she's unabashedly imaginative, poetic and romantic"and at the same time, she's this very grounding force for Jojo. She's fighting for the Resistance and is really a very modern woman," Johansson describes. "She's such a bright light in this very dark time. It's very rare for me to read something and just say 'I have to do this' but I really felt that way when I read this script."
Johansson and Waititi talked a lot about the kind of mother that Rosie is"trying to balance her need to live boldly and be true to herself while doing all she can to keep Jojo safe through loss and peril.
"Taika and I had conversations about what it's like to be a working parent who has a passionate work life but is also a very committed parent. I think that helped to inform who Rosie eventually became. She's full of life and she's mysterious and very importantly, she hasn't given up," Johansson observes. "Being a mother is a big part of her identity but it's just one part. She also is full of fervor and ideas and I wanted her to have all those different shades so that she might feel really full of life."
Waititi says Johansson brought shades to the role even he hadn't foreseen. "Scarlett's got this sort of goofy quality about her that I always really wanted to see in a film," he says. "At the same time, she makes Rosie a love letter to single mothers. Even in the middle of a time that's so dangerous and crazy, Rosie keeps a hold on Jojo's innocence, and she is truly one of the strongest characters in the film."
Johansson forged her own tight and necessary bond with Roman Griffin Davis during the shoot. "Rosie and Jojo have a very loving relationship and I wanted that tenderness to be felt instantly when you see them," says Johansson. "Even though Rosie is a dreamer and a bit of a comedian, she's also very pragmatic. Very much part of being a parent is that constant balancing between your practical, responsible, adult side and the side who can create a magical world for your kids."
For everyone on the set, the urgent connection between Johansson and Davis was palpable. "Scarlett was so affectionate with Roman and he responded to that so strongly that you felt a deep bond was there from day one," says Neal.
In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Rosie impersonates Jojo's absent father in an attempt to reach him, drawing herself a beard and holding a two-sided conversation with herself that ranges from the explosive to the melancholy to the tender.
At once comic, heartbreaking and bittersweet, Johansson credits Waititi's writing for evoking her multichromatic performance.
"Taika's writing can somehow be sad, poignant and charming all at once," describes Johansson. "His writing is so colorful, but also complicated. That's the gift that Taika gives to the actors."
Sam Rockwell, Captain Klenzendorf
"Who am I and why am I here talking to a bunch of little titty-grabbers instead of leading my men towards glorious death? Great question. I've asked it myself every day since Operation Screw-Up, where I lost a perfectly good eye in a totally preventable enemy attack." -Captain Klenzendorf
As Captain Klenzendorf, the cheekily imperious trainer of Hitler Youth troops who is at various times Jojo's idol, nemesis and confidante, Sam Rockwell once again shows his expansive range. Coming off an Oscar for his portrait of a small-town cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and acclaim for his portrayal of the legendary Bob Fosse in television's Fosse/Verdon, Rockwell brings both a comic outrageousness and a human touch to the Nazi warrior who has one eye, zero faith in the military command and a growing number of secrets.
For Rockwell, the marriage of comedy and drama, of eye-rolling cynicism and quiet rebellion in Klenzendorf intrigued. "It's such an unusual tone that Taika had in mind for the film," he muses. "You start out thinking: is this film really going to have a pro-Nazi kid as the protagonist? Then you find the story is truly about tolerance and family and humanity and I think it's a very beautiful, sophisticated film."
Rather than look to historical Nazis, Rockwell looked instead to classic comedians for inspiration. "I looked at Bill Murray and Walter Matthau," he laughs. "Klenzendorf is German and he's got one eye and he's gay"but other than that, he is a lot like Matthau in Bad News Bears."
Much as there is an inanity to the character, Rockwell especially likes that there is more to Klenzendorf than meets the eye. "I really love roles that have a dichotomy to them and Klenzendorf has more than one thing going on. He has his own secrets. For one thing he's a gay Nazi, which though they existed is not a phrase you hear very often, so I found it fascinating to work with that juxtaposition."
Rockwell also found inspiration in his cast mates. "Stephen Merchant was killing me with his ad-libs, the way he and Taika could just riff and have us all in stitches," he says. "And then Rebel Wilson, wow, is she hilarious. Her comedy is funny and weird and so original."
Klenzendorf's more than right-hand-man, Freddie Finkel"who is 100% devoted to Germany, but even more so to Klenzendorf due to the unspoken relationship between them" was another bit of unexpected casting. Taking the role is Alfie Allen, best known as the aggrieved Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones.
"This role is unlike anything I've done before," Allen notes. "It's a risky, exciting idea and I hope it will do what art should do, provoke different emotions in every kind of person out there."
Allen loved having the chance to collaborate so closely with Rockwell. "The opportunities we had daily to improvise and just have fun were amazing," he says. "If you'd have asked me before if there was one person who I'd most like to work with it would have been Sam. It was a dream come true and even better, we really got along, and the whole dynamic was fantastic."
The family atmosphere on the set made it that much easier for all the actors to take risks, says Allen. "Taika is so passionate that it permeates through to everybody else," Allen observes. "He likes to have a good time, but he also likes to work hard and go deep, so for him, it's all about building trust and creating an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. That brought out the best in us all."
Taika Waititi, Adolf Hitler
"There's no reason to let that thing in the attic ruin your life. You could actually use it to your advantage." -Adolf
Waititi himself takes on one of the film's central roles as Jojo's imaginary pal and advisor Adolf. "I wasn't my first choice for the role," Waititi laughs, "and I wasn't the obvious choice. At first, we went out to a few different actors and maybe it's something that makes people nervous, and it probably should, but a lot of actors didn't feel that comfortable with it. For me, it was fun because I didn't base him really at all on the historical Hitler. He's a figment of Jojo's imagination so his knowledge of the world is limited to what a 10-yearold understands. He's the little devil on Jojo's shoulder, basically. He's also a bit of a projection of Jojo's heroes all combined, including his father."
While Waititi incorporates the infamous Hitler schtick"the raging, autocratic language and over-the-top gestures"his Hitler is also infused with Jojo's boyish joy, until he starts to unravel at the imaginary seams. "I decided to just play him as a stupider version of myself–if that's possible–but with a Hitler moustache," says Waititi.
Jojo's fantasy version of Hitler is hardly the historical figure. Instead, he's a loony, larger-than-life mashup of Jojo's own impulses, desires, things he's read or overheard and his yearning for a father figure. "Jojo's version of Adolf can actually sometimes be quite nice, which might seem a bit weird because he is Hitler, but at other times he's properly scary," describes Davis. "Taika was really amazing at playing that, where he could be so funny and then suddenly, he'll just start staring at you intensely. Taika is such a super positive and upbeat person, but when he's Hitler he can really seem evil."
The first time Davis saw Waititi in costume, he was hit with a serious chill. "I went into Taika's room to ask a question and he was Hitler! My mouth fell open because I'd never seen a life-size Hitler. I'd seen him on a tiny iPad but seeing him as twice the size of me was quite terrifying," he recalls.
As Jojo matures, Hitler shifts in sync with his evolving mind. "I started out giving Adolf a certain posture, but throughout the film his posture grows kind of sadder and sadder and a bit more like he's being weighed down," Waititi describes. "He's very light in the beginning, like Jojo, but by the end of the film he's just this sad, sad despot."
Rebel Wilson, Fraulein Rahm"Now get your things together, kids, it's time to burn some books!" -Fraulein Rahm
Providing deadpan comic relief throughout Jojo Rabbit is Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson, the Jungvolk instructor who teaches the girls how to perform their "womanly duties" in war time but dreams of joining the frontlines herself. The Australian comic star known for her ability to bring characters with a hilariously clueless innocence to life. Fraulein Rahm follows in this tradition, ever-willing to believe every absurd Nazi myth that makes the rounds.
When Waititi showed Wilson the script and asked her to bring her own touches to the highly unusual character, she was thrilled. "It's not every day you get sent a comedy script that is both funny and powerful, so I immediately wanted to be part of it," she says. "What I like about Taika's style is that his sense of comedy is very natural – and unusual."
Wilson also had a blast with Rockwell. "I'm a huge fan of his and he's so good at what he does, but also the nicest guy. So apart from having to be Nazis, it was really cool to work with him," she quips.
Despite her satiric portrait of a woman who questions absolutely nothing she hears, Wilson notes that Fraulein Rahm is representative of many German women who took lead roles in the war.
"The movie is set towards the end of WWII, when a lot of German men had died, so women were allowed to do jobs that were previously held by men," Wilson explains. "This really did happen: by 1945 it was all-hands- 18 on-deck and women were doing whatever they could. Fraulein Rahm serves in every way she can: teaching girls their womanly duties, giving Jojo physical therapy, then manning a machine gun."
Wilson's fearless improvisational skills and understanding of how to balance her character's absurd oblivion with its impact on the world was a great fit with the film's mix of tones, says Neal. "Rebel often had the whole crew in stitches," he says. "She ad-libbed, she brought in her own lines every day and that's the way that Taika most loves to work."
Stephen Merchant, Captain Herman Deertz
"We were just Heil-Hitlering each other, and we're about to conduct a random investigation." -Captain Herman Deertz
Perhaps the most hilariously dark and frightening character of all in Jojo Rabbit is Captain Herman Deertz of the Falkenheim Gestapo, who meticulously investigates reports of hidden Jews and resistors. The tricky role is embodied by English comic actor and writer Stephen Merchant, renown for co-writing and co-directing with Ricky Gervais the hugely influential British series The Office, co-writing and starring in EXTRAS with Gervais, his HBO comedy series "Hello Ladies," and directing his most recent film Fighting With My Family.
Merchant appreciated the nearly-impossible needle Waititi threaded in the screenplay. "He took something that on the surface is bleak and found a way to inject it with humor, emotion and heart," he says. "I found the script had a charged, satirical edge in the vein of say Dr. Strangelove and other black comedies that confront heavy subject matters by making them very funny."
Though this is their first collaboration, Merchant had an inkling he and Waititi would be on the same wavelength. "I knew that I probably shared a common sensibility with him, both in terms of our senses of humor and our performance styles…and I wasn't disappointed. Taika was very collaborative and indulged me greatly, allowing me to kind of play around with the character and improvise lines."
Part of Merchant's aim was to keep Captain Deertz threatening while also within the farcical tone of the film. He hopes the character reminds people of just how outrageous cults of personality can become. "There is something laughable about the worship of this little man with his little moustache who looks like an angry accountant and that's one of the things that Taika plays with in the film," he observes. "There's a sense of how people can be swept up by, for lack of a better word, bullshit. It's something still resonating right now. We still see people all over the world being swept up in these things"especially when there's a uniform and an identity involved"so it seems well worth satirizing."
"I do think the film might ruffle some feathers but I hope people will see that it's also quite a beautiful, timely story about a boy learning to think for himself, to not swallow hook, line and sinker what he's been told but to question what he sees happening," he concludes.
Recreating World War Ii-Era Germany
"The Russians, Jojo, they're coming! And the Americans from the other way, and England and China and Africa and India. The whole world is coming!" - Yorki Like the story, the design of Jojo Rabbit presents the world through a 10-year-old's confined but vivid lens, full of bright colors and bucolic beauty even amid the oppression and destruction of Nazi Germany. From the start, Waititi knew he wanted to take audiences beyond a nostalgic, "wartime look."
"In a lot of WWII-era films, everyone dresses in brown and gray and it just feels kind of sad and dated. But if you look at the fashions of the time, though, there was really lots of bright color and high style. We didn't want to push too far into something surreal, but we wanted to really bring out the color and energy you don't usually see," says Waititi.
To create Jojo's multihued world, Waititi assembled a tight-knit, award-winning crew led by director of photography Mihai Malaimare (The Master, The Hate U Give), Oscar-nominated production designer Ra Vincent (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Thor: Ragnarok) and costume designer Mayes Rubeo (Thor: Ragnarok, Avatar).
Malaimare notes that recently rediscovered color footage of WWII-era Germany utterly altered his view of an era that in most people's minds unspools in black-and-white. To see that world in color"the way Jojo, Rosie and Elsa would have experienced it"gave it a whole new dimension and aliveness.
"One of the things Taika and I talked about in the beginning is that our perception of that time can play tricks on us," Malaimare explains. "We have seen so many muted period films from WWII, whether in black & white or in more somber colors, that we are shocked to see such a vibrant spectrum of color. But that was the reality and once we decided to reflect this, it was an idea that circulated through the set design and the costumes and helped to set the tone Taika wanted for the story. It feels a little strange to the audience only because we are not used to it, but the color I think makes it more real to us."
Adds Ra Vincent: "We all felt we had a unique opportunity here to create a fresh look for a WWII-era film. Since the audience is seeing through the eyes of Jojo, our creative palette couldn't use just color, but heightened color and we could make the environments more joyously abstract. At Jojo's age things are a little more rosy-tinted and the world seems bigger and more amazing. So, we really set out to try to recreate this feeling, the feeling we all have in childhood, but within 1940s Germany."
Malaimare also pored through authentic images of children from those times, especially the work of Magnum Photos founder Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson began photographing Europe on the brink of massive change in the early 1930s. Later, after escaping from a German prisoner-of-war labor camp, he documented the populace of Europe during and after the Allied liberation. His photographs of children evoke a particularly surreal feeling, starkly contrasting their spontaneous playfulness and sheer joy of being alive against the most unchildlike environments of war and ruin.
When it came to Waititi's imaginary Hitler, Waititi and Malaimare decided on a matter-of-fact photographic technique that highlights how normal it feels to Jojo to converse with this friend he's conjured in his mind. "Taika and I came very fast to the conclusion that we should shoot this Hitler as a real character because the more real he is, the more you see through Jojo's eyes," Malaimare elucidates.
Using the Arri Alexa SXT family of digital 35mm cameras, Malaimare took a unique approach to the lenses. Rather than stick to standard anamorphic 2X lenses, he used the Hawk V-light squeeze anamorphic 1.3X lenses that give a more organic feel. "We found this technique of using anamorphic 1.3X lenses gave us the color saturation we wanted. Skin tones get this velvety quality, so it feels very alive without being too overly cinematic," the cinematographer explains. "This too contributes to the film's tone. And since the Hawk lenses are made in Germany it was helpful to be shooting nearby."
To bring Jojo's fictional hometown of Falkenheim to life, the production headed for Žatec and Úštěk, small towns in the Czech Republic"in an area that was at times considered part of Germany and was under German occupation in WWII. Here, in a place that was never bombed, pre-war buildings have kept alive that oldworld, storybook look.
"We chose these towns because it had so much character and it felt like the most German of all the Czech towns we visited, with lots of German-style baroque architecture," says Vincent.
Malaimare found the Czech Republic gave him the creative freedom a cinematographer craves. "Often on a period film, you're trying to hide signs of the modern world with camera angles and lighting but here, everything looked so good and authentic and there was so much detail in every direction, it allowed us so many more options. You could barely tell it was the 21st century because there were no wires or air conditioning units or anything that takes you out of time. So, we had the beautiful luxury of being able to move freely and shoot in 360 degrees and it was quite amazing."
Most of the interior sets were built on stages within Prague's Barrandov Studios, a weighty spot for a WWII satire because during the occupation, that very same studio churned out frightening Nazi propaganda. "It felt like a kind of poetic justice to make Jojo Rabbit here," notes Vincent, "as well as a kind of blessing of the ground and clearing a new path for anti-racist and anti-fascist beliefs to flourish."
The crux of Vincent's work was designing the Betzler house, where much of the action takes place. "We wanted Jojo and Rosie's house to have a very different kind of palette from other period films," Vincent explains.
"The building itself is a typically baroque, terraced, stone house but we decided that in furnishing and decorating it, the Betzlers would be very switched on and with the times. That era between 1930 and 1945 was actually a revolutionary one for style in Europe, despite the war. And Rosie's a very stylish woman, so her house has a lot of flair, with very modern, Art Deco designs."
"The interior of the house was incredible for us. Ra's sets were so rich that we could shoot in every direction and it was pure joy," says Malaimare.
However, hidden deep within the lightness of the house is Elsa's dark, cramped space behind the wall, which forges an opposite feeling, mirroring the nearly unbearable tension under which she is forced to live. It also gave Malaimare one of his most serious technical challenges. "For lighting that space, we used only candles, gas lamps and a few 5-watt LEDs. But we were also using T1 lenses and when you shoot at that speed in such low light, there are extreme limitations, especially on the actor's movements. It was very difficult work, so we were excited to be able to get those shots," he says.
As the events in the film grow darker, so too do the colors. Vincent explains, "For the happier, more playful moments in the film, we used a diverse palette of oversaturated colors. Then, we taper those off as more drama comes into play. Most of the film takes place in the Autumn so we also had the chance to bring lush greens sprinkled with gorgeous reds, oranges and pinks into our street scenes."
Dressing For World War II
For the costumes, Mayes Rubeo"known for designs spanning from the ancient Mayan realm of Apocalypto to the fictional world of Avatar to the Marvel universe of Thor: Raganarok" worked closely in synch with Vincent.
Waititi had observed in his research that people tended to dress far more formally than today, perhaps out of fatalism, and he wanted to capture that sense of elegant beauty that persisted. "Towards the end of the war, people thought every day could be their last, so they wore their very best clothes and put on all their makeup," he explains. "If they were going to die, they wanted to look good."
As with Vincent, Waititi impressed upon Rubeo that he wanted a look for the film that was unexpected and filled with the spirit of childhood. "Taika always said, 'I want a WWII world that doesn't look like any other, because this movie is seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old,'" recalls Rubeo. "At that age, I think you remember everything but with a kind of brightness to it all. Everything looks like a Spring morning. For me, I felt that what Taika was after was a lot like what the Italian Neorealists were doing in the 40s, but in color. The film has all those Neorealist qualities where there are sunny and charming moments but also very dramatic moments, and the mood can go from funny to tragic in a snap."
The core of Rubeo's work was the heartbeat of Jojo's world: the polished and chic Rosie Betzler. Rubeo rummaged through the most magical Italian costume houses for choice vintage pieces. But she also created several of Rosie's blouses and dresses by hand to bring out even more of her character.
"Rosie is this wonderful, extroverted character whose life is like a provocation because she's so determined and not down at all with Hitler. For me she was the anchor from which all the other designs came from," says Rubeo. "We talked about her having an artistic background and I took that as my starting point. Also, there's a feeling that before the war the Betzlers lived well. Even if now they only have one potato to eat it's still served on a fancy tablecloth because Rosie still believes in the good life."
Rosie's look had to be so distinctive that the audience recognizes her, in a flash, in the scene that is a devastating emotional turning point of the story. "The butterfly seemed to express who she is, and we used a very distinctive pair of shoes, which stand out for a lady in that era. I think it is more powerful when you just see the shoes and make the connection to the butterfly in this moment," says Rubeo.
For Mihai Malaimare, there was no need for the camera to pull back in that moment. "We worked with Mayes throughout to prepare for this," he explains. "So, with the camera we always tried to make sure the audience was aware of Rosie's shoes. For example, you really notice them when she's dancing by the river in that light moment so that later we don't need to show any more."
Jojo of course mainly wears his Jungvolk uniform which Rubeo based on authentic, historical designs. "We found some vintage uniforms in Berlin, but we had to make a lot of them in different sizes for all the extras, so we made our own. When you see Jojo in his uniform at home it is like he is a boy trying to be the policeman of his household," she describes.
For Waititi's absurdist rendition of Hitler, Rubeo also hewed to the infamous basic brown Nazi Party uniform. But she kept this Adolf in a more voluminous pair of riding pants that both emphasize his imaginary nature and his roiling insecurities.
Throughout much of the film, Rubeo stayed true to the austere and tailored look favored by the German military. But she had a chance to get glitzier with Captain Klenzendorf, who secretly fancies himself a uniform designer"and ultimately breaks out of his confines to bring to life his unorthodox dream outfit. "Captain Klenzendorf lives in a world of his own," laughs Rubeo. "He has all this flamboyant creativity that we wanted to give expression to at the end, when he explodes onto the scene. Taika brought in lots of ideas and I knew he wanted something homemade, colorful and funny, but also a little bit heroic. The main thing for me was that it had to feel like a uniform made by someone who knows almost nothing about the rules of design. That was fun to do!"
With so many designs that, much like the film, veer from the historic to the utterly unique, Rubeo spent intensive hours with Waititi"which she says never stopped being a pleasure. "Taika loves constant communication and I loved it, too, because when you spend so much time together that's when you're able to create something that harmonizes with all the other elements, which was so important for Jojo."
Visual effects supervisor Jason Chen also worked to extend Jojo's world. He especially had his work cut out for him in the film's climactic battle scene as full-scale combat comes out of the abstract to Jojo's street. "We wanted the movie to break out into absolute chaos with tanks roaming all over the place and lots of gunfire and destruction," Chen describes. "For most of the film, we've been in Jojo's imagination, with his playful view of war, but when the battle hits the town, we're suddenly struck with the reality of what war really is. We wanted the frightening atmosphere and noise of it to feel very real."
"In some ways it feels very visceral and real, but we also created something that becomes a kind of magical and surreal moment in the film," notes Malaimare of the climactic scene.
One of Chen's favorite whimsical scenes is when Jojo and Elsa converse in the attic, growing closer in spite of themselves, with a glittering nightscape hanging in the sky behind them. "There's one little single window above them reflecting bombs going off in the distance. We used a matte painting that looks almost like stars above them to help create this romantic but heart-breaking moment," Chen says.
Like the rest of the crew, Chen loved being invited daily to take his creativity to the nth degree. "Taika is the ultimate team player," he describes. "He will take anyone's suggestion on the crew. He truly believes in saying to everyone: here is outline of my idea, help me to sculpt it."
The Final Touches: Scoring For Wartime
"The Reich is dying. We're going to lose this war and then what will you do? All I'm saying is that life is a gift and therefore we must celebrate it." -Rosie Betzler
Waititi and his editor, Tom Eagles, (What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) collaborated closely with Oscar-winning composer, Michael Giacchino who while editing the film created a score that works hand-in-hand with the spirit of the film, flowing through the full spectrum of Jojo's emotions.
"I've been a fan of Michael's work for a long time, especially his incredible, heartfelt score for Pixar's UP," said Waititi. Known for creating the immediately recognisable scores for seven of Pixar's animated adventures, Giacchino has also become one of the most sought-after composers for mega-blockbusters such as Star Trek Beyond, Spider-Man: Homecoming and War For The Planet Of The Apes. But he says that his score for Jojo Rabbit may be his favorite to date.
"I'm proud of being part of a film that isn't afraid to speak its truth and put something out there that might raise some eyebrows, but I hope will lead to some really great and important conversations," he says. "Taika just ran with this crazy idea in a very beautiful way and I think if you want to say something that's true and necessary in this world you have to take some big risks."
Waititi continued, "His work on Jojo Rabbit elevated the film to a new level, increasing the emotional resonance and tying the themes, characters and world of the movie together. It was a highly collaborative and instinctive process working with him."
Though Giacchino usually avoids reading scripts, preferring to absorb the more direct emotions of footage, in this case Waititi asked him to take a look so they could talk about it. Giacchino was very glad he did. "I loved it so much," he says, "and knowing Taika's other movies I knew he would bring just the right touch. He really understands how comedy and tragedy are intertwined. The best comedy has always come out of the hardest human situations and Nazi Germany is one of the hardest situations in history."
Once he'd taken in the power of the script, he and Waititi talked tone. "We both agreed we wanted to be straight-up, pure and true with the music," Giacchino says. "Taika didn't need the music to be comical because the film was already so funny. The first question I always ask is, 'what feeling do you want people to walk away with from this movie?' For me, that feeling was Jojo going from a closed-off, blinders-on attitude about the world to having his worldview smashed open to starting to see everything in a very different way. That was the inspiration."
It was clear to Giacchino that just as the visuals emanate from Jojo's innocence, exuberance and naivete, so too should the music be driven by his emotionally volatile character. "I felt the music should always be with him, so the first thing I did was to write an 11-minute suite that showed the course of his character. Although there are moments when Rosie or Elsa will change the music, the score is all primarily drawn from Jojo's emotions. The main melody is played throughout the movie in several different ways. While it begins as a march it later becomes an adagio during the battle as Jojo's own nationalism begins to transform into something else."
Giacchino was ready to think outside the box as well. This included everything from writing songs with lyricist Elyssa Samsel for Jojo and his compatriots to sing in the Jungvolk camp to using his connection with Paul McCartney to explain why he should absolutely grant permission for Waititi to use the German version of the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for a scene about hysteria for Hitler.
Still, his foundation lay in classical influences. "I knew I wanted a very European score, something that felt like if you were wandering down the street in 1939 Germany, you might hear that music playing out someone's window. Chopin, Liszt and Satie were all influences. But most of all what inspired me is constantly thinking, 'what is the film asking for?' You just have to try to take on those really hard emotions and feel them in your gut. That's the challenge of a film like this."
Those emotions led to the choice of a pared-down ensemble: a 22-piece orchestra with a string quartet at its center, as well as piano, a couple of guitars, some brass and percussion. "For me, it's a really nice change to work with a small, intimate group like that," Giacchino says. "I'm used to working with a 100-piece orchestra, but I personally feel the smaller the orchestra, the more emotional the sound."
While the film breaks out into the Beatles and then Bowie (utilizing the German version of Bowie's song "Heroes""a song about the Berlin wall, which Bowie scholar David Buckley called "perhaps pop's definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity"), the score contrasts with those anachronisms.
"Having a more traditional score with the Beatles and Bowie moments I think makes it even stranger and stronger," Giacchino observes. "Somehow it all works together, and I don't entirely know how. I think perhaps it's because everything was chosen from exactly the right emotions for the scenes. We did face a pretty big problem of convincing people to let us use their songs for a story about Hitler. I've had the incredible opportunity to work before with Paul McCartney, who is one of my heroes, so I was part of a group of people who all approached him to explain that this movie isn't what it might seem and it's really a powerful statement against hate. In the end, it all worked out and Taika got the songs he wanted."
Indeed, for Jojo Rabbit to succeed, what it always needed was for enough people to believe in what it was trying to do, however audaciously. In the end, as much as Jojo Rabbit showcases the tragically absurd realities of authoritarianism and nationalistic fervor, as well as the personal wages of prejudice and hate, the film equally reminds us of our human connection and the simple responsibility we all have to do what we can…including simply trying to be good to one another.
Waititi sums up: "This feels like exactly the right time to tell this story…because this is a case where you don't want it to be too late to tell it."
Release Date: December 26th, 2019