The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a true story about the Nazi occupation of Warsaw Poland during World War II. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking, and was filmed in the Czech Republic.
Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, the grounds and animals beautifully depicted at the beginning of the story. They live with their young son at the zoo, and lovingly tend to the animals.
The Nazi invasion of Warsaw causes death and destruction to the zoo and the animals, and the Zabinski’s see their Jewish friends abducted and placed in camps, known as the Warsaw ghetto. Jan and Antonina soon devise a way to free some of the people in the camp and take them to their home where they effectively hide them.
Complicating their secret is the head of the Berlin Zoo and Hitler’s zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl). He sees himself as friends with the Zabinski’s. He often visits unannounced and makes unwelcome advances towards Antonina. His aspirations include the genetic manipulation and breeding of animals that places some of their zoo animals in jeopardy.
The film is as expected, danger at being found out, and the deprivation that war brings. Jan’s success at removing Jews from the camp made the guards in the camp look really stupid for not detecting them hidden in his vehicle and leaving through the gates to freedom.
I think that if this same situation occurred today, it would be completely different. Technology the way it is, it would be virtually impossible to effectively hide anyone in your home safely or free them in the way Jan was able to do. The Zabinski’s risk their lives to save others, and this is the redeeming message of the film.
I liked the cinematography and the musical score. The costuming was I’m sure authentic, and the story was effectively developed over the years of the war up until the ultimate ending and rebuilding of Warsaw.
Despite the action occurring in Poland, the film is in English, the actors speaking in German and Polish accents. This is my one criticism of the film. It should have been spoken in the Polish people’s native language with English subtitles. It seems disrespectful to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust to make this film in English.
I saw it in my local theater this week, so it is still likely to be showing in your community. I can see this being a somewhat gentle introduction to the Holocaust for children 13 and up. Combined with an intelligent discussion after the film about hate and how such horrible tragedies occur, whether it be to Jews, Muslims, indigenous peoples or to anyone else, it would be both a good story to watch with your children, and an educational lesson in compassion. The ending was a tearjerker for me and the other moviegoers. I recommend you go see it.