Ten years ago, American composer Michael Giacchino was picking up an Academy Award for his music in Up. His work was also heard in every TV lover’s living room, as the final season of Lost hit the small screen. A decade later, and the New Jersey native’s newest project sees him collaborate with Taika Waititi for his comedy/drama Jojo Rabbit.
In a nutshell Jojo Rabbit follows 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), an aspiring Nazi and member of the Hitler Youth often visited by his idiotic imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Yes… that’s what the film is about. Jojo’s blind nationalism is tested when he discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. What unfolds is Waititi’s risky strategy of combining irreverent humour and pathos, set against the backdrop of war; when both of these were in short supply.
Musically, Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Inside Out, Rogue One) faces a difficult question. How the hell do you put music to a script like Jojo Rabbit? His answer is to mirror Waititi’s approach to the film, and to bounce from one genre to the next. ‘Jojo’s March’ and ‘Rabbit Got Your Tongue’ are fun and childlike pieces. They are percussion heavy, with piercing whistles and brass that create a sense of fantastic chaos. Similarly, ‘Grenade and Bear It’ and ‘Jojo’s Infirmary Period’ show even the film’s brief action sequences are to be taken as completely absurd. It’s fun music for the sake of being fun.
Of course Giacchino keeps up his long-standing tradition of humorous and pun-heavy titles for his pieces (‘Allies Well That Ends Well’ and ‘The Kids Are All Reich’ particularly jump off the page in this instance). But it’s his more emotive work that showcases his talents as a composer. ‘Rosie’s Nocturne’ for example, laments Johansson’s character’s state of loneliness and depression. The fragile blend of piano and strings reminds us that underneath the comedic surface, Rosie is a troubled alcoholic who has (most likely) lost her husband, her daughter, and rejects the ideals of Nazi Germany.
‘A Butterfly’s Wings’ is a playful yet meaningful and simple piece that Waititi uses as a bridge between comedy and drama. Of course ‘Jojo’s Theme’ combines all of these elements to create what is essentially the essence of Jojo Betzler; a funny and oddly likeable young man with a softer and more caring side than he would care to admit.
The popular music soundtrack to Jojo Rabbit is not without its purpose either. Waititi uses a German recording of The Beatles’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ (‘Komm gib mir deine Hand‘) as the punch line to a montage of Nazi salutes and pro-Hitler propaganda. He revisits this idea at the end of the film, using David Bowie’s German recording of ‘Heroes’ (‘Helden‘) to celebrate Jojo and (more importantly) Elsa’s newfound freedom. Taika Waititi uses these songs to good effect to create a bit of humour (The Beatles) and drama (Bowie) that is accessible and fun for the audience – not bad for a man with a tiny moustache.