During the collapse of Nazi Germany in the fictional town of Falkenheim, ten-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler joins the Deutsches Jungvolk, the junior section of the Hitler Youth. Heavily indoctrinated with Nazi ideals and unpopular, he created the imaginary friend Adolf, a buffoonish Adolf Hitler. At a training camp run by Captain Klenzendorf, he is nicknamed “Jojo Rabbit” after refusing to kill a rabbit to prove his worthiness. Pepped up by Adolf, he returns to prove himself, throwing a Stielhandgranate without supervision; it explodes at his feet, leaving him scarred and limping. His mother, Rosie, insists to the now-demoted Klenzendorf that Jojo still be included; he is given small tasks such as spreading propaganda leaflets and collecting scrap for the war effor
Alone at home one day, Jojo discovers Elsa Korr, a teenage Jewish girl and his late sister Inge’s former classmate, hiding behind the walls of Inge’s attic bedroom. Jojo is both terrified of and aggressive towards Elsa. The two are left in a stalemate, as the revelation that Rosie is hiding Elsa would lead to the execution of all three of them. Jojo continues to interact with her, in order to uncover her “Jew secrets” so he can “expose” the Jewish race. Despite this, he often empathizes with Elsa, apologizing to her when he offends. Elsa is both saddened and amused by Jojo’s beliefs, using antisemitic canards to show Jojo the cowardice of the ideologies he was indoctrinated with. Jojo slowly becomes infatuated with the caring and engaging Elsa, and frequently forges love letters from Elsa’s fiancé Nathan. As they get closer, Jojo begins questioning his beliefs, causing Adolf to scold him over his diminishing patriotism.
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