The Zookeeper’s Wife parents guide

The Zookeeper’s Wife Parent Review

Despite some stereotypical depictions of holocaust violence, this movie gives the Zabinski's true story of compassion and courage another chance to inspire and influence the world.

Overall B

As the Nazis invade Poland, the owners of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski (played by Jessica Chasten and Johan Heldenbergh) use their facility to help save hundreds of Jews. This movie is based on a true story.

Violence C-
Sexual Content D+
Profanity A-
Substance Use C

The Zookeeper’s Wife is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking.

Movie Review

Zoologist Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his animal-whisperer wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are the owners and keepers of the Warsaw, Poland Zoo. The pair are well respected in society, and their facility is an important part of the community. Yet all that changes after Hitler’s army invades their country, and the Nazis occupy their city.

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First the zoo sustains major damages during a bombing raid, and then German soldiers take over the compound and use it as an armory. A lot of animals are killed (some are shot on screen and many bloody carcasses are shown). Those that survive are ordered to be liquidated and used for food and supplies. Desperate to save any she can, Antonina agrees to let Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), a former colleague and head of the Berlin zoo, take the best of their stock back to his institution. But Jan fears that the handsome Lutz Heck, who seems smitten by Antonina’s beauty, is merely eyeing up specimens he wants for his own collection.

As World War II continues, the Zabinski’s also watch as their Jewish neighbors are rounded up and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto. Even more desperate to save these endangered humans, the couple decides to use their zoo, which has underground tunnels and cages, to hide as many as they can. Despite the great risk to themselves and their young son (played first by Timothy Radford and later by Val Maloku), the Zabinskis become part of a network of determined rescuers.

Although based on a true story, this movie uses various fictional characters to depict the horrors of the Holocaust. These include a young girl (Shira Haas) who is presumably raped and shown bruised and bleeding, a woman (Efrat Dor) separated from her imprisoned husband (Iddo Goldberg) and a couple of escaped Jews who are found and shot (on screen). Other disturbing depictions include people who have frozen to death, are gunned down, or are burned by fire. Particularly heart wrenching are the ones who sacrifice themselves to protect the more vulnerable, such as small children.

Parents should also be aware that smoking and drinking are frequent in this period drama. Sexual content features some breast nudity (in a non-sexual context), passionate kissing and undressing (married and unmarried couples), and scenes where a woman uses her sex-appeal to manipulate a man. A pair of mating animals is also seen.

Some of the violent portrayals shown here feel like those typically found in stories from this time in history. Nevertheless, they do add a sense of the human suffering going on and emphasize the real message of the film: The power of the one to stand against the many. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were brave in the face of overwhelming evil. Even though their abilities to help seemed small, they still made a big difference in the lives of many individuals. The making of this movie gives their amazing courage another chance to inspire and influence the world.

Directed by Niki Caro. Starring Jessica Chastain, Daniel Brühl, Iddo Goldberg. Running time: 127 minutes. Theatrical release March 31, 2017. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Zookeeper’s Wife here.

The Zookeeper’s Wife Parents Guide

Why are the Zabinski’s willing to risk their lives for people of a different faith? Would you be willing to do that to save friends and strangers?

Why is the Zabinski’s decision to start a pig farm fed on garbage from the Jewish Ghetto such a clever way to hide their rescue efforts from the German soldiers? Why do the Jews accept pig meat even though their religion prohibits them from eating it?

Antonina and Jan work in different ways to help the Jews. What challenges does Antonina face as she protects those hiding in her house? What atrocities does Jan witness as he sneaks prisoners out of the ghetto? Although they are both engaged in the same cause, why do they sometimes feel divided? What things are they willing to sacrifice to save these people?

Jan offers to rescue an older gentleman on several occasions, but the man refuses to leave the ghetto. Why? Who is he trying to help? What does he do to try to protect the youngest prisoners? Where do you think the Germans are sending the Jews when they pack them into railway cars?