The Zookeepers’ Wife is a film based on the novel (of the same name) which is inspired by the real life story and diary of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan. During the Nazi invasion and control of Poland, Antonina and her husband utilized their responsibility as the Warsaw Zookeepers to create a safe and transitional space for Jews. They are responsible for save hundreds of lives, which is a pretty amazing thing, but it wasn’t just that. Antonina created a world for them in which they could not only process through and begin to heal from the loss and hurts they’d seen, but embrace a sense of normal and happy again, inside those walls when the regime was not looking. This is what struck me the most about the book, the film and the life of Antonina. Saving lives is incredible, but then helping them gain back the ability to live is one step beyond.
Antonina’s deep love for animals carries on, into her love for others. She is the sort of soul which love simply flows from. Her husband Jan is passionate about the lives of others and the resistance. The two of them together change the world for many.
Most people I have talked to are familiar with the story, so honestly I won’t get too far into it. While I did find myself enthralled by this story, as it played out on the screen, it fell a little short of what I had hoped. The nudity, for instance. This is the sort of movie that I would want my more mature kids to see because it is real life and it is important content. I wouldn’t, however, want my kids to see Jessica Chastain’s breasts. This isn’t because I’m a prude, I’ve seen lots of movies with nudity. I was just raving about Nocturnal Animals not even a week ago, after all. It is simply that this nudity (no matter how small) adds NOTHING to this story. In fact, it takes away from it. I always think about Knocked Up, when Ben and his buddies are creating a website cataloguing every movie with nudity and at what point in the film it’s at. This story is not made better by making a list like that, it cheapens it. The nudity cheapened it.
There is so much within the time frame of this film which is painful to watch, but so necessary because it is true. Many of us have lived such a sheltered existence, missing completely the horrors of war. For example, I had never even thought about what would happen to a zoo should a bombing occur? What other element of real life horror would that add? The film also shows us how cold and callous human beings can be, in power. We tend to forget that sometimes, and seem to need regular reminding.
All in all, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a beautifully filmed story, timely within the American climate of what is happened in lashing out against our Jewish neighbors. There is a hope that this story will wake people up and challenge us to help others, love others and step up even when it places us at great risk, and then to take it a step further and breathe life into whatever we do. I do not know that I could watch it again, much of it was painful and the important things I have gleaned from this film are with me permanently.
Do you plan to see The Zookeeper’s Wife?