by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider, McFarland USA), written by Angela Workman and based on the book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife is another incredible story of survival during the second World War.
The time is 1939 and the place is Warsaw, Poland. Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) are the caretakers of the beloved Warsaw Zoo. Antonina has a special way with both the zoo animals and her husband because when trouble looms in the air, she refuses her husband’s wishes for her to leave Poland with their son, Ryszard.
Soon after, Poland is invaded by the Nazis, and Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), the zoo’s owner, becomes Hitler’s newly appointed chief zoologist. The incursion wreaks havoc on the zoo and the nation. Jewish people are labeled with arm bands and sent to the Warsaw “Ghetto” for detainment. Because their friends have been sent to the Ghetto, the Zabinskis conceive a devious plan and trick Heck in order to transform their beloved animal zoo into a secret human zoo of sorts to save the lives of hundreds of Jewish prisoners.
A cross between Schindler’s List, We Bought A Zoo and Beauty and the Beast (Chastain and Heldenbergh), The Zookeeper’s Wife is a beautiful and emotional yet predictable, “based on real events”, a tale of beating the Nazis and saving Jews during World War II. While the movie is predictable, it is also a little too long. It takes too much time for Heck to finally make his move on Antonina. It takes too long to discover the plot to sneak Jews through their version of an “underground railroad”. But it seems that patient storytelling seems to be a signature of Caro’s directorial style.
Rated PG-13, The Zookeeper’s Wife is light on human violence, leaving most of it to be assumed or implied. However, the most disturbing violent images come from the death of zoo animals at the hands of the Nazis. It’s a pretty good story to start a dialogue on the Nazi Holocaust if you can stand to recount it again.