The traditional colors of ‘history’ are black and white. 

It’s easy to forget that the color and vibrancy of our present-day images are a relatively new color scheme.

Although color photography was first invented in the early years of the twentieth century, the medium wasn’t truly accepted until well into the 1970s. The trepidation to adapt to color photography stemmed from the highly unstable pigmentation of early color photographs, making them difficult to conserve.

After the acceptance of the medium in the ’70s, however, its popularity quickly spread. This means that many events, even in fairly recent history, remain in a black-and-white hue.

Images from the Holocaust, the battles, and recordings of Nazi Germany all seem much deeper in the past than they truly are. 

In addition to these monochrome records, there’s also a bleakness associated with war movies, even if they are in full color. Naturally, the subject itself is far from cheery, but there’s something about the overall dreariness that permeates traditional war films that make them feel far removed from our everyday lives. 

Taika Waititi overturns this expectation in his anti-hate satire of Nazi Germany that is brimming with the fashion, color, and vitality of German life during the Second World War. 

It’s common knowledge now that major fashion houses have had ties to Nazi Germany, even prompting an apology from Hugo Boss for their production of Nazi uniforms. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that life for a young German boy, a member of the Hitler Youth, wasn’t all in grayscale…but somehow it is. 

Buxom Cosmetics

The color and fashion that Jojo Rabbit brings to Nazi Germany make the extent of Nazi crimes that much more indigestible because it suddenly feels much closer to our present day.

As an audience member, it was jarring to see a well lit, bright, vibrant account of brutality and rampant anti-Semitism. 

Young Jojo, indoctrinated to the Nazi agenda, and subscribing to a horrifyingly prejudiced world view while still seeing the world with all the vibrancy and innocence of childhood, is a reminder that we are never too far away from repeating the cruelest periods of human history.

By distancing ourselves from our pasts, we make it easier for ourselves to repeat our past mistakes.

Award-winning costume designer for Jojo Rabbit Mayes C. Rubeo remarks that Rosie’s (Jojo’s mother, played by Scarlett Johansson) signature spectator shoes, which are ultimately integral to the most heartbreaking scene in the film, were inspired by the fact that, “in the 30s and early 40s, the most popular films were musicals. It was all about dancing and jazz.” 

What a strange reality to think about.

Time is not in fact linear, and the golden age of Hollywood musicals happened alongside a world war, and the era in which female pants came into fashion (although they were largely inaccessible to the majority of women).

Still from Jojo Rabbit (2019). A pair of red and white lace-up spectator shoes in the background behind a young boy's head as he turns in the direction of the shoes.
[Image description: Still from Jojo Rabbit (2019). A pair of red and white lace-up spectator shoes in the background behind a young boy’s head as he turns in the direction of the shoes.] Via IMDb.

The film subtly concentrates more vitality and color into the empathetic characters masquerading as Nazis to escape prosecution, including Rosie and Captain Klenzendorf. The Captain’s self-designed, flamboyant war attire in his final scenes is reminiscent of the same verve that Rosie represents. Both characters, at varying points in the film, shield the young, Jewish Elsa from being discovered.

Color and fashion become a weapon for the empathetic, compassionate characters of the film to emit more light in small but powerful ways, the only way they could show resistance without their loyalties being questioned.

Still from Jojo Rabbit (2019). A man in a uniform, red cape, long red fringe on his sleeves, and a bejewelled helmet with feathers on it stands with a cigarette in his mouth and a gun in both hands. Behind him a man stands in a similarly customised uniform staring into the distance.
[Image description: Still from Jojo Rabbit (2019). A man in a uniform, red cape, long red fringe on his sleeves, and a bejeweled helmet with feathers on it stands with a cigarette in his mouth and a gun in both hands. Behind him a man stands in a similarly customized uniform staring into the distance.] Via IMDb.

Jojo Rabbit expertly leverages period-accurate fashion to not only create a world that fully absorbs you into the folds of its color, humor, heartbreak, and monstrosity but also makes a point about how history should be consumed and represented.  

We make history every single day. So to look back at history as an entity that has been extracted from a backdrop of cultural and social significance forces these events into a vacuum.

Jojo Rabbit is a jarring, visually magnificent reminder of the culture and color that was the backdrop of one of the darkest periods in our shared global history.  

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https://thetempest.co/?p=137180
Amandi Fernando

By Amandi Fernando

Editorial Fellow