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The Zookeeper’s Wife – Movie Review

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The Zookeeper’s Wife – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

The Holocaust is frequently depicted on film, not only because it’s a time period that should never be forgotten, but also because there are still many stories to tell. The Zookeeper’s Wife doesn’t rank among the best Holocaust films, but it does manage to dig into the mindset of those who were seduced by Nazism and those who fought against its evil. What initially seems like it will rest on the cuteness of the animals to grab the audience’s attention, director Niki Caro eventually shows the horrors of the Holocaust and the need to escape what the Nazis were doing.

Caro and her screenwriter Angela Workman, adapting Diane Ackerman’s book, immediately latch onto the setting of the zoo in Nazi-occupied Warsaw to show the contrast of the innocence of the animals and the awful acts committed outside of the gates. It is instantly established how much Antonina and her husband Jan understand the atrocities that are being committed. Caro mounts a number of sequences that build the tension when the Zabinskis begin hiding Jews in their zoo. There is a frequent fear of any little thing going wrong and spoiling the entire plan. Nothing is shied away from or hidden in this film, in regards to the atrocities being committed.

The film also shows how even regular people with normal jobs were manipulated by the terrible ideas being presented by the Third Reich. Daniel Bruhl’s zoologist claims to not be political and prefers to focus on the well being of animals. This instantly disappears the second he puts on the uniform and doesn’t think twice about shooting whatever animal crosses his path at the zoo. It shows how the Nazi ideology was planted in each SS soldier’s head and there was no turning back. Bruhl’s performance is scary as he continually puts the pieces together and attempts to understand everyone’s motives.

While it is likely up for debate how accurate Jessica Chastain’s Polish accent is, she gives an admirable performance and shows the compassion Antonina had for her animals, her family and the Jews who sought her help. Johan Heldenbergh also provides solid work as Jan, as he sees the horrors unfold before his eyes. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when he assists children entering the trains and knows precisely what awaits them. Caro, Workman and editor David Coulson jump through the timeline of the story’s events with the proper smoothness and it never feels like information is missing when we leap ahead to a new year. The aging of their young son also never feels jarring and gives a glimpse of the Holocaust through the eyes of a growing boy watching from a distance.

The Zookeeper’s Wife presents another necessary story of the terrible events that happened during the Holocaust. However, we also need to remember the people who realised what the Nazis were doing and put their lives on the line to lessen their success rate. The Zabinskis are undoubtedly heroes and this film honours them nicely. The film shows all of the points of views clearly, whether it’s the Nazis and their evil ways, those on the outside who understood what they were doing was no good and the Jews trying to survive. This film presents a necessary picture of these events.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison