Can 'Imaginary Friend' Adolf Hitler Help a 10-Year-Old Boy Survive WWII?

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Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis star in the Word War II satire "Jojo Rabbit." (Fox Searchlight)

"Jojo Rabbit" (out now on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for writer/director Taika Waititi and divided audiences into those who appreciate a good World War II satire and those who think that world's most evil man Adolf Hitler should never be the butt of a joke.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old German boy whose father is off fighting the war. He's excited to join the Hitler youth, put on the uniform and learn how to wield the organization's standard-issue dagger. He's optimistic about his success because he's taking advice from his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler.

Since this Fuhrer is the product of a young boy's imagination, the movie's Hitler doesn't know anything that Jojo himself doesn't know and therefore gives spectacularly immature and terrible advice. This is either hilarious or offensive.

Jojo's mother (Scarlett Johanssen, nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her performance) hides a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic, and Jojo is forced to process his learned prejudices against the reality of an actual person living in his house.

Waititi is right up front with his intentions: "Jojo Rabbit" opens with a montage of WWII-era footage of Hitler's adoring masses set to the Beatles' German-language version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." So it's funny meta commentary or a tasteless joke about popularity and mass hysteria, depending on your viewpoint. You'll know within the first five minutes whether this movie is for you.

There's a message about tolerance embedded in the silly story, the earnest idea that individual interactions are the best way to teach everyone that all the negative and hateful things they've been taught about other races, religions or nationalities are wrong. In the included interviews on the home video release, Waititi seems both truly puzzled that he has to point out something so obvious but also absolutely determined to do so because the world has shown him how necessary his message should be.

"Jojo Rabbit" was never going to win Best Picture because it's too willing to make a possibly offensive joke in order to get its point across. That doesn't make it any less funny (or moving) to anyone who's willing or able to embrace its conceit. Hitler as self-centered moron makes for a pretty entertaining film.

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