The horrors of the Holocaust have been outlined in many films over the years. Many of them are really well done, while others are not. The latest version of the film fall smack in the middle.
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the true story of Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), a family living at a zoo in Poland who helped around 300 Jews escape from the dreaded Warsaw Ghetto. After Poland is occupied by the Germans, Antonina and Jan have to report to Hitler’s chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), who takes a shine to Antonina. His presence at the zoo makes it even more challenging for the Żabińskas to help the people that they were to help.
Jessica Chastain is wonderful in the lead role. Chastain brings the power to her performance not only with her scenes with her male co-stars, but also with the animals that seem to be free throughout the film. Whether she is cuddling with beautiful lion cubs or helping a new born baby elephant to breath, Chastain is amazingly believable as an animal handler above all others.
The scenes of the bombing of the zoo and then the extermination of the animals later because they “would not survive the winter” were brutal and hard to watch. They also provided a stark comparison to the manner in which the Nazis treated the Jews. The film also metaphorically compares the animals in the zoo with the Jewish people being kept in the Żabińska home, a zoo of a different type, but still a way to protect the inhabitants.
The scenes shot at the Warsaw Ghetto was a terrible reminder of how horrible these situations were. The film does a good job of portraying the overcrowded location, and showing the blatantly disgusting environment that these men, women and children were forced to withstand. The scene of the children being lifted onto the train by Heldenbergh, with the knowledge of what would come for these people, was heartbreaking.
This is another good film about the horrors of the Holocaust. This is a period that we must always remember.