Posted 4/3/17 | © Photo courtesy of Scion Films
The Zookeeper's Wife is a thoughtful film about a very tragic time in Poland's history. It stars Jessica Chastain in one of her best-ever performances as the title character, Antonina Zabinska. She is a devoted wife, mother, and animal lover, happily helping her husband (Johan Heldenbergh) care for the thriving Warsaw Zoo and its creatures.
The film opens in the summer of 1939, shortly before their Polish city was invaded?and eventually destroyed?by the German army. The Zabinskas are forced to report to Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), named by Hitler as Chief Zoologist for the Third Reich. Heck's plans for the zoo don't include good treatment of the animals; far from it.
Claiming to just follow orders, Heck is only interested in trying to breed an extinct oxen, Eurochs, through their Bison. Meanwhile their best stock, including some lions, tigers, and zebras, are shipped back to his Berlin Zoo. Animal lovers be warned, there are some shocking, disturbing images of creatures being killed.
The couple bravely decide to fight back by joining the underground Resistance forces. They also work to save the lives of over 300 men, women, and children from the Warsaw Ghetto. The Jewish people living in the ghetto were the first to be cruelly treated. With its occupants ostracized, then starved, then beaten, killed, or forced to leave for concentration camps, the Nazis eventually burned the Warsaw Ghetto to the ground. In punishment for the uprising, the entire city of Warsaw was also destroyed before the end of the war.
While The Zookeeper's Wife made me gasp, cringe, and even shut my eyes a few times, I wouldn't have missed the experience. We must never forget the lessons of history, even those that are almost too painful to watch. Many Polish families were executed by the German army for providing assistance to Jews, so the risk taken by this couple was enormous. After the war, nearly all the 300+ refugees saved by the zookeeper and his wife survived WWII. They were able to tell their story, and years later Dr. Zabinska and Antonina were honored by being named Righteous Among the Nations.
Distributed by Scion Films, the drama is rated PG-13 for
thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity, and smoking. Based on the bestselling book by Diane Ackerman, the script was written by Angela Workman, and the film is directed by Niki Caro. The Zookeeper's Wife opens in North Texas March 31.