The true story of the safe haven that was the Warsaw Zoo
Historical tales of heroism are so inspirational to see. Sure, fictional heroism can be fun but it just doesn’t compare with events that really happened. Liberties are usually taken to make these stories more cinema friendly of course, but even the basic concept can be powerful stuff. World War II has plenty of stories to mine from and we’ve been presented with many films that are about moments in that era. During that period, Poland was one of the areas that was massively affected by the Nazi regime. Obviously, it is worth telling us about what occurred here. Zookeeper’s Wife takes a closer look away from the frontlines to show us what happened behind the scenes in Poland during this dark moment in human history. It shines as bright light of inspiration in this darkness.
Zookeeper’s Wife takes place primarily at the Warsaw Zoo in 1939 Warsaw, Poland. The zoo is managed and run by Antonina Zabinski and her husband Dr. Jan Zabinski. It is quite a magnificent zoo with all sorts of beautiful animals, some of them even not being held in cages. Around this time, Poland is taken over by the Nazis, and Warsaw comes under the control of the Reich. All the Jewish people are horded up and moved to the ghetto. Everything is under the scrutiny of the regime including the operation of the zoo. The Zabinskis are forced to report to the Reich’s chief zoologist, Lutz Heck. Due to his orders, the zoo ceases operations and sends some animals away. The remaining animals are killed by soldiers. Being that they have close Jewish friends, the Zabinskis begin to work covertly to hide Jews in their zoo by sneaking them out of the ghetto. By doing this they are able to save the lives of hundreds from what becomes known as the Warsaw Ghetto.
I thought this was beautifully filmed movie. The recreation of Warsaw, despite my ignorance of the details, seems spot on. The adorable animals will capture the hearts of animal lovers in the first act, while the despair of the atrocity that occurs in the second half will break your heart. From my understanding this seems to be a fairly accurate depiction of the true events that happened, as I fail to see where there might have been huge exaggerations. In terms of performances, Daniel Bruhl is excellent as the menacing Lutz Heck. While coming off as a cliché Nazi at times, the film does a good job at giving him more depth than most villains typically get. Jessica Chastain is also great. Let’s face it, she is one of the better actresses of our time. She just doesn’t seem to do as much as the title of the film implies, considering that her husband, played by Johan Heldenbergh, takes on more of the risky ventures.
The story is inherently interesting. You are invested in what is going on the whole time. I never got bored. While we do see some terrible things happen, we are shielded from some of the more disturbing horrors of what occurred as they are hinted at but never really shown. That’s the thing about this film…it hums along and keeps you on edge for the most part, but it never really rises to the major impact that you think it should have. You don’t leave the cinema haunted by what happened. Maybe that’s the point. This is not supposed to be that dark. It’s an inspirational tale for sure. You have to appreciate the daunting risk being taken by people like the Zabinskis at times like this. I would say anyone that enjoys historical drama should see this. If not, I still think it’s worth a watch at some point, whether that be at the hall or as a rental.