"Dancing is for people who are free!": The wonderful symbolism in Jojo Rabbit
We dance when we are happy and having fun, perhaps with your friend or lover. Maybe even to celebrate something or just to have fun. In Jojo Rabbit, dancing is shown as a sign of freedom and happiness. It is a recurring event that takes place in Taika Watiti’s sixth film, a story about a young boy in the Hitler Youth and his imaginary friend, Hitler, as well as his mother, who is a member of a resistance in Germany. The mother, especially, is the creator for many of the dancing occurrences; as I watched this film a second time, I noticed how each time she - or someone - dances it is a symbol of freedom and happiness. In Judaism, dancing is a celebration of freedom and, Taika Waititi who identifies as a Polynesian Jew, may be using this theme as an absolute contrast to the Nazi ideas.
In a scene where Jojo’s mother, Rosie (played by Scarlett Johansson), is dancing to a record player whilst drinking wine, Jojo asks “why so happy?”. She replies “...the war will soon be over”, which is one of the first obvious signs that she just wants the war to be over and there to be peace and freedom. She is bored of the war and sees it as “pointless” and is celebrating the fact it will be over; this begins the repeated symbol of freedom relating to dancing. When the war is over and if the allies won, Jewish people, as well as other German civilians would not be under the Nazi ideals. Elsa, a Jewish girl living in their attic (played by Thomasin McKenzie) would be free, and she is celebrating that life would be able to go back to normal. Remembering when life was full of freedom is also noted later in that scene where Rosie pretends to be dancing with her husband. She recalls being able to dance with her husband who is ‘fighting’ in the war (it is mentioned later that he is part of the resistance far away). This is shown through her dancing alone, which symbolises how she is desperately trying to feel free again. Instead of longing for freedom like before, she is remembering moments where she was just able to escape with her husband and have fun. Eventually, Jojo comes and dances with her which reminds the audience that Jojo isn't free either, and also misses his father. Jojo stands on a chair to make them around eye-level; this clearly puts emphasis on his father missing from the household.
Rosie and Jojo go on a bike ride and a walk around a nearby lake and bridge, and during this scene the theme of dancing is brought up on multiple occasions. Firstly, Rosie says that “The banks used to be full of lovers, dancing and singing” which reminds the audience of the scene I previously talked about, lovers dancing. In this scene she says that love is the most powerful thing and the fact people were openly showing their love through singing and dancing highlights the freedom there was before the war. In a later scene Rosie is walking on a wall beside Jojo, who is below her. This shot and dynamic, in particular, plays on the roles of an immature child ‘dangerously’ walking on the wall, in this case it is the mother. She tells him how he is too young to be worrying about things like the war and he is growing up too fast. In this scene Jojo is playing the part of an ‘older’ role, by talking about Germany winning the war.
Rosie says “Life is a gift, we must celebrate it. We have to dance to show God we are grateful to be alive.” This line stuck out to me, despite everything that is going on around them including the war, the Reichstag and Elsa to look after, Rosie still finds happiness in dancing and celebrating life. Her line “dancing is for people who are free” especially highlights this. As Rosie dances on this wall, there is great emphasis on her feet shuffling and dancing around. The audience sees Jojo watch her feet as they are at eye-level, a moment that is repeated later in the film. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare consciously wanted the audience to recognise her shoes and make them aware of them so the scene of Jojo meeting her hanging body at eye-level hit harder. It definitely did. Where previously we watched her feet dance and celebrate the freedom of life, we then saw them sway lifeless.
This technique was extremely effective, and immediately turned the film from a light-hearted dark-humoured comedy to a devastating drama.
This does not tear away from the happiness of the film however, despite Rosie’s death, Elsa and Jojo have to keep on living. Elsa says that the first thing she was going to do when she was free was “dance” and that she does. When she is able to go outside she sees the American flags flying and the Swastikas burnt up, she realizes she is free. She made it through the war and Germany had been defeated. She and Jojo begin to dance subtly, then get more and more joyous as they dance in the street, with a German cover of ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie playing over the top. Elsa and Jojo dancing represent their freedom from the war and Nazi Germany; Elsa is no longer trapped and forced to hide and Jojo is no longer being forced into German youth ideals. Dancing is the sign that they can have fun and be happy, celebrating life for what it should be.
Jojo Rabbit is an incredible film and definitely one of my favourites. This film is full of moments that’ll make you laugh and cry but also remind you of life’s beauties and teach you to be grateful for your freedom, what you have, and to celebrate it. “Life is a gift, we must celebrate it. We have to dance to show God we are grateful to be alive.”
Dance because you are free!