I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
Just a note before I begin, turn off your phone in a cinema. Seriously, turn it off. A guy near me in this film had it ring on vibrate four times before I told him. Not on!
The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the true story of a Polish Zookeeper and his wife who between 1939 and 1945 sheltered hundreds of Jews from the Nazis.
I can’t imagine something more difficult to convey on-screen than the Holocaust. It’s been done in the past, but it is something so far removed from humanity that it only works in certain circumstances.
What works in this movie is that it is entirely from the perspective of non-Jews wanting to help. This relative distance and only rare glimpses into the full horror of the situation make it easier for us to put ourselves into the protagonist’s shoes.
I can’t even give this movie the increasingly common criticism of “white saviour film” since this is based on a true story and the Jews are not just passive agents here either.
The humanity of the Zookeepers is so endearing. Their belief in the value of other lives is genuine, un-cynical and very moving. People as fundamentally good as these are inspiring and that is a great quality for this kind of movie.
To make a movie about one of the worst events in human history emotionally resonant is very hard. As Stalin supposedly said (but probably didn’t), “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”.
That’s why films use cinematic little moments to convey the loss on a human level. In this one, there’s a moment so unexpectedly heart-wrenching that I burst into tears.
If I had one complaint it would be the use of Daniel Brühl’s character, Dr Lutz Heck, as such a horrifying nemesis. I can’t find much evidence of his actions as portrayed in this movie save for the fact that he did some cooperation with the Nazis as he would be forced to do. Even to Nazis, art must be fair.
Another minor complaint is that this film has a few too many endings. My favourite movie is The Lord of the Rings so I can understand if you think this criticism isn’t fair, but they could have cut out at least one finale!
The animals and the zoo are effectively used as an allegory throughout. The Nazis exterminate some while taking some of the “better stock”. The animals run around Warsaw confused after the bombings on the 1st of September 1939. And the Zookeepers do their utmost to protect them.
As obvious as those metaphors might be, in getting a general audience into understanding this dark period of history, it is a very well executed device.
Recommended Scenario: If you want an admittedly sentimental, but inspiring Holocaust Drama.