The Zookeeper's Wife

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Zookeeper's Wife Movie Poster Image
Intense, violent true story about courage in WWII.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 124 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 6 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It's important to do what's right, even when that's scary or dangerous. Standing up to evil is hard but necessary. Being kind and compassionate to all the creatures of the Earth includes our fellow humans. Courage takes many forms.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Antonina is brave, strong, and complex, even in the face of cruelty and evil in Nazi-occupied Poland. Her husband, Jan, is equally courageous, putting his life on the line to save others and showing compassion to those in the greatest need of help. They're not perfect, but they consistently do the right thing when it matters, and they save both people and animals in the process. Lutz Heck presents himself as compassionate and caring but is hard and cruel underneath.

Violence

Scenes of the many atrocities committed by the Nazis in Warsaw during WWII, including rape, assault, and murder. A girl is seen being manhandled by two guards; their assault of her isn't shown, but her bloody, beaten, traumatized appearance afterward makes it clear she was raped. The Warsaw ghetto is bombed and overrun by soldiers who don't think twice about shooting people on the streets or menacing them with guns; later, it's set on fire, with people still inside. Resistance fighters battle Nazis in the streets, with casualties on both sides. A woman briefly believes her son has been shot; her grief is shown. Children are shown boarding a train that's clearly destined for a concentration camp. In another scene, two women are executed point-blank. Frequent fear and tension. A man throws a woman on a bed and seems set on assaulting her but doesn't. Nazis casually shoot zoo animals; another sequence shows animal carcasses after the zoo is bombed. A baby elephant struggles for life early in the film.

Sex

A married couple is shown in bed; the woman's naked breasts are briefly seen. In another sequence, they kiss passionately. Other sexually charged scenes between two characters, though one interprets the situation very differently than the other. Discussion of a female animal being "in season"; she's later shown being mounted by a male bison. Both animal and human babies are born.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent smoking (accurate for the era). Social/casual drinking (at parties, etc.)

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Zookeeper's Wife is an intense, sometimes-brutal drama based on the true story (which inspired Diane Ackerman's same-named book) of a couple who helped save hundreds of Warsaw Jews during World War II. Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski, who, with her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), turned their zoo into a different kind of sanctuary during the Nazis' occupation of their city. Expect many disturbing scenes of wartime carnage and destruction -- including bombings, battles, explosions, and shootings. A teen girl is raped by Nazi soldiers (the act itself isn't shown, but viewers see her being taken away and then beaten and bloody after the fact). People are executed, animals are shot, and Jews are rounded up in the Warsaw ghetto and later placed on trains bound for concentration camps. There are many moments of tension and fear, but characters also show compassion and courage in the face of tremendous odds. While there's no strong language to worry about, characters do embrace passionately, and sex is implied (a naked breast is briefly seen). There's also a fair amount of smoking (accurate for the era) and drinking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bybookfriendly March 30, 2017

Very disturbing movie focused on the terrible at the expense of the beautiful

To be fair, I didn't finish the movie. I walked out in the middle of it, I was that disgusted. (I have never done that before.) I read the book and immedia... Continue reading
Adult Written byMrs. A.T. April 6, 2017

Good, but not for young viewers

I saw this movie and thought it was well done. I do not think it is appropriate for children under the age of 16 due to the violent nature -rape of young teen... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMrose03 April 3, 2017

Incredible!

I had been waiting months to see this movie, and it was definitely worth the wait! The acting was incredible, especially from Jessica Chastian, Daniel Brühl, a... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byQueenOfFandoms June 30, 2017

Not for younger viewers

Me and my friends went to see this movie in the theatre, after lots of inappropriate and brutal scenes by the time the movie ended half the people were not even... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE opens in Warsaw in 1939. The Germans are making their presence felt, but life is still filled with joy and a sense of purpose for Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski, the keeper of the Warsaw Zoo. Antonina isn't just his devoted spouse; she's also an involved partner in the care and keeping of the animals, many of which adore her. But soon the Zabinskis and their young son must deal with the onslaught of Hitler's Nazis: Warsaw is bombed, and many of the zoo's animals are killed. A former friend-turned-Nazi-zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) claims many of the survivors and proceeds to set up a breeding program at the zoo, while taking a keen interest in Antonina herself. Soon the German troops start rounding Warsaw's Jews up and corralling them in the city's overcrowded ghetto. Jan and Antonina decide that they can't just do nothing while many of their friends are being imprisoned. So they hatch a perilous plan to use the zoo as the front for a resistance that's aimed at shepherding as many Jews as possible out of the ghetto and into freedom. 

Is it any good?

This story is beautifully filmed and important, but it suffers from an affliction that many period films based on a single central figure endure: No one except the main character truly comes alive. And while Chastain is captivating in the title role, even Antonina remains somewhat opaque. Her deep love for those she cares for -- both animals and people -- is quickly explained by a short scene late in the film, almost as if someone was checking off a cinematic "to do" list. Everyone else in The Zookeeper's Wife, meanwhile, feels somewhat paint-by-numbers, including both Jan and the Jewish men, women, and children to whom the Zabinskis offer sanctuary. Only one of them, Urszula (Shira Haas), has texture and complexity, and even then, we still don't really get to know her story.  

The movie is strongest when it focuses on the Zabinski home and the zoo; the bond between the family and their animals is palpable from the start, when we see their son napping next to a lion cub. But outside of that relative haven, the world is hard and broken, and these sections of the film are less effective, with director Niki Caro relying on visuals we've seen before in many other films about World War II and the Holocaust. Still, The Zookeeper's Wife will likely affect viewers deeply, offering a reminder that cruelty and brutality of this magnitude once had the capability to rob humans of their empathy and, well, humanity. Thankfully it also offers the reminder that there are always bold souls who will brave the fray and fight for what's right. It's an important, and sobering, lesson to re-learn. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Zookeeper's Wife. Does this kind of movie violence have more or less impact on you than what you see in an action movie? Why?

  • In addition to showing the Nazis' cruelty to the Jews, the film also shows animals being hurt and outright slaughtered. Do you think those scenes were necessary to the story? What do they convey to viewers?

  • How do the characters demonstrate courage and compassion? Why are those important character strengths? Do you have to be a perfect person to have a strong character?

  • Do you think you'd have been able to do what the Zabinskis did? Why do you think more people didn't do the same?

  • How is this movie similar to, and different from, other movies about World War II and the Holocaust? Does it surprise you that there are still so many incredible stories to be told about that time in history?

Movie details

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