"Life Is Precious"
What You Need To Know:
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is beautifully filmed and well produced, with some terrific acting. Like many historical movies, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE sags in the middle and is too long. However, the opening and the ending are terrific. The movie has a strong moral worldview, but MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for wartime violence and scenes where brutal German soldiers take advantage of two females.
(BBB, ACACAC, VVV, SS, NN, A, D, M) Very strong moral worldview about standing against tyranny in the form of National Socialism and saving 300 Jewish people, with Jewish prayers, a seder Passover celebration, and very strong portraits of Jews standing against tyranny, plus hero and heroine model some Christian, redemptive virtues; no foul language; lots of strong wartime violence with some blood includes point blank executions (even of women and children), Warsaw ghetto starvations with bodies lying on the street, a young child girl is raped by two Nazis, people are tortured, and, what’s worse, the killing of precious animals in the zoo by evil National Socialists; several shots of a married couple in bed clearly about to engage in sexual relations, two German soldiers rape a young girl, the German commandant forcibly kisses and starts to rape the title character; upper male and female nudity; lots of alcohol use; smoking but no drugs; and, widespread lying and deception to save Jewish people from murderous National Socialists and a wife uses her femininity to distract the Nazi commandant but eventually he takes things too far.
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE tells the true story of a couple who owned a zoo in Warsaw, Poland and saved 300 Jews using the zoo for cover.
The movie opens with Antonina, the zookeeper’s wife, and her son waking up with two lion cubs on the bed. Clearly, she loves animals. At a party at the zoo, a German zookeeper, Herr Lutz Heck, is describing the moment he was almost attacked by a magnificent tiger and had to shoot it. Clearly, Heck doesn’t like the animals as much as the zookeeper’s wife and her husband, Jan.
In the middle of the party, as a woman is ridiculing Antonina, they’re told the elephants just birthed a baby that’s not breathing. Someone says Antonina is a magician with the animals. Antonina goes to the elephants’ pen and scoops the mucus out of the baby’s trunk, administrating CPR in front of the elephant parents while all the guests watch. For those who know animals, this is pretty amazing, because elephants are one of the leading killers of men when something sets them off, like disturbing their baby. Several shots after that show the Jan and Antonina talking care of the animals and frolicking with them.
In the midst of this pastoral setting, Herr Heck returns in his Nazi commandant uniform and says they’re going to kill all the animals and use the zoo to store armaments. He offers to take the prize animals to his zoos in Berlin and Munich to save them. Antonina asks, but what will happen to those animals if the war comes to Berlin and Munich?
To save the zoo and their Jewish friends, Antonina and Jan come up with an outlandish plan: to turn the zoo into a pig farm. When they tell Herr Heck, he asks what are you going to feed the pigs? They say they will use the refuse from the ghetto where the Jews are forced to live, taking the trucks into the ghetto to take all the refuse. Of course, when they go into the ghetto, they always put one or two Jews in the bottom of the truck and cover them in refuse.
During one of these excursions, Jan sees a young teenage Jewish girl with beautiful hair raped by two German soldiers. He hides her in the truck under his coat with his son putting his feet over her.
Back at the zoo, the Jews are living in the gigantic basement where the vets used to work. Antonina works out a signal so that, when she plays the piano at night, they can come out of hiding. When she plays it in the morning, they have to go back into hiding.
Of course, Herr Heck suspects something, but Jan and Antonna agree she should use her feminine wiles to distract him. Eventually, as the Nazi regime crumbles, Herr Heck gets more suspicious, the Polish underground starts fighting back, and Heck tries to rape Antonina.
Is all lost in this reign of terror?
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is beautifully filmed and well produced, with some terrific acting. Evidently, this was a passion project for all involved. The good news is that it has no foul language, but the violence is very intense, including the rapes and the pointblank shootings. The shootings of the animals elicited tears from the audience.
Like too many historical movies, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE sags in the middle and went on too long. The rescue of the Jews from the ghetto becomes so easy that the movie loses its jeopardy and begins to repeat itself. Thus, it doesn’t build as such great Holocaust movies like SCHINDLER’S LIST. However, the beginning is magnificent, and the ending is wonderful. MOVIEGUIDE® does advise extreme caution for partial nudity, the rape scenes and the unrelenting violence, which, it can be argued, are necessary to show how evil the National Socialists were.
There’s a lot of references to God and prayer from the Jewish characters in THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE. When all seems lost, the little girl recovering from rape asks if she can hold a Seder on Passover Eve, foreshadowing the intervention of God in their lives. The Nazis are portrayed correctly as Darwinian materialists, believing you can breed people and animals, and the hero and heroine manifest Christian virtues, except they don’t overtly talk about their faith.
Of course, one of the great problems with these movies, which was shown so clearly in THE HIDING PLACE, is that Christians must lie and deceive to save lives. One should read the many theological studies of how the Bible and God forgives such deception and condones it, because life is the ultimate virtue, such as the midwives in Egypt saving Moses when the Egyptians murdered the Jewish babies.
This could have been a great movie if it were trimmed. Even so, it’s worth watching for mature viewers who can put up with the violence and brief nudity.