Based on the true story of how the owners of the Warsaw zoo smuggled Jews out of the ghetto and into safety during the Nazi occupation. Starring Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl.
Anonina (Chastain) and Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) were the owners of the Warsaw zoo in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. Faced with not only the destruction of their life’s work, but the devastation of their Jewish friends and neighbors, they decide to do what they can to save both. Despite close scrutiny of their former associate and Hitler’s head zoologist, Dr. Lutz Heck (Brühl), they use the zoo to save and hide hundreds of their neighbors over time.
Drawing immediate comparisons with Schindler’s List, The Zookeeper‘s Wife pushes at the boundaries of its PG-13 rating at times but still remains a more sanitized picture of a horrific time and place. It has its share of intense scenes and heartbreaking moments, but is most often a feel good tale despite the circumstances, focusing more on the positive than negative.
Something that particularly stuck out to me about this movie is how little we actually see of the horrible treatment of the Jewish people. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t sugar coat it, but more is implied and informed by what we already know of history than actually shown. On the other hand, we are explicitly shown the cruelty brought down upon the hapless zoo animals multiple times. It may have been a way to illustrate the Nazi’s brutality while still avoiding the human violence that would garner an R rating and make a less palatable film, or it may have been a way to make the stakes of the Żabińskis especially personal. Either way, it does work, but at the same time seems to cheapen the real horrors that are going on by focusing on animal killings.
That problem aside, I found few issues with this movie, powered by yet another charged performance by the unstoppable Chastain. It may not be as brutally gritty and unflinching as some might want or expect from a film of this nature, but it gets its point across to a larger audience as a result. A solid, meaningful story portrayed on screen with great talent. It doesn’t have that certain something that is going to generate rave reviews and awards buzz, but don’t let that make you think it isn’t worth your time.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
Brother Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
The Zookeeper’s Wife rescues 474 theaters, March 31