The Zookeeper’s Wife tells a very emotional story on a subject that needs to be handled with delicate care. And for the most part, it is very successful in capturing the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. We see the devastation brought by the Nazis, not only how it affects the Jews, but how it affects a zoo full of animals. The Zookeeper’s Wife is all-around heartbreaking, and will evoke feeling from audiences.
The story takes place in Warsaw, Poland, shortly before its invasion by Nazi Germany in 1939. Here, we see the lives of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) Zabinski, a couple who together run the Warsaw Zoo. A sizable and prolific zoo, everything changes when the Nazis invade Poland. Antonina and Jan are forced to report to the chief German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), a creul and intuitive man who develops intimate feelings for Antonina. With many of the zoo animals killed or taken by the Nazis, the Zabinskis begin concealing Jews in the underground animal cages, attempting to save as many lives as possible.
The performances of the cast are as emotional as they are convincing. For me, the line was blurred between watching actors on a screen and seeing real people with real life dilemmas. Through these actors, the audience is treated to a poignant, heart-rending story. There were a few characters, like Antonina Zabinski, that could’ve been written stronger and more confident, but generally everything fell right into place.
I think the most respectable aspect of the entire film is that, almost everything portrayed on screen actually happened. Often these “based on a true story” type of films are horribly inaccurate, which in hindsight can taint how enjoyable I find the movie. But here, the filmmakers did everything in their power to keep the events in the movie historically accurate, which is a decision I find highly admirable.
The third act of the film unfortunately felt a little unfocused, when compared to the rest of the story. The plot started centering in on aspects that had no significance or consequence to the overall story that was being developed. We began to rapidly see great leaps in time, ranging from just a couple months to even years. I understand that the film was attempting to give us the complete story of the Zabinski’s and The Warsaw Zoo, and some skipping around was necessary. I just feel that this could’ve been implemented into the story in a much more effective way, so that it didn’t come off as jumbled.
After viewing the Zookeeper’s Wife, I really feel like I got my money’s worth. This wasn’t a cheap product quickly thrown together to make a buck, this was a film treated with precision and care. I love how much dedication went into making this heart-wrenching and beautiful story come to life, in a way that respects its source material. The Zookeeper’s Wife was well directed and acted, and while the film could’ve been a little better constructed, I definitely think it’s worth watching.
The Verdict: B+