Australian Council on Children and the Media

The Zookeeper’s Wife

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Not recommended under 15 (Violence, distressing scenes, war theme)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for The Zookeeper’s Wife
  • a review of The Zookeeper’s Wife completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 9 May 2017.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children Under 15 Not recommended

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: The Zookeeper’s Wife
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes and violence
Length 91 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on the true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) Zabinski, the owners of the Warsaw Zoo, who helped save hundreds of people from the death camps of World War II.

 

Antonina and Jan are friends with Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), a German zoologist and director of the Berlin Zoo. Lutz is obviously attracted to Antonina, which impacts the events of the story. When war breaks out, the Warsaw Zoo is badly bombed resulting in the death of many of the animals. Lutz, now a member of the SS, offers to take the prize stock back to Berlin, where he thinks it will be safer.

 

Meanwhile all the Jews in Warsaw are being rounded up and placed in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Zabinskis have Jewish friends Magda (Efrat Dor) and Iddo (Maurycy Fraenkel) and agree to hide Magda in the basement of their home while Iddo is sent to the ghetto. Jan devizes a plan to farm pigs, which Lutz grants him permission to do. He is also allowed to enter the ghetto to collect food waste to feed the pigs. This is a ruse to bring out the children, hiding them underneath all the rubbish. As the war progresses, and events unfold, the Zabinskis manage to bring out adults, as well as children, including their old friend Iddo.

 

Jan eventually joins the resistance fighters leaving Antonina and their son Ryzard (Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) to manage on their own. Antonina takes advantage of Lutz’s affections to continue helping people to escape from the ghetto right under the Germans’ noses.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

World War II; Death of animals and people; Survival, Resistance.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Planes fly low over the zoo and drop bombs. Explosions occur terrifying the animals and many dead animals are shown.
  • Soldiers shoot some of the animals including an elephant who has just given birth.
  • Soldiers smash shopfront windows and arrest shopkeepers.
  • Two soldiers grab a young girl, about 13, by the hair and drag her into a building. She is later shown badly injured, covered in blood, with her clothes torn and obviously traumatised.
  • Two women that the Zabinskis helped escape are discovered living in the city. They are taken out of their house and shot.
  • The ghetto is eventually evacuated and the people marched out by soldiers and loaded onto train carriages. Soldiers are rough with the people and have muzzled German Shepherd dogs with them to keep the people in order. The ghetto is then burnt down, while people are still in it.
  • A gun battle between the German army and Polish resistance takes place with many men shot, including Jan Zabinski.
  • Antonina goes to Lutz begging to know Jan’s whereabouts. Lutz starts to kiss Antonina but she tells him she detests him. He then starts to pull her clothes off and drags her to a couch but changes his mind and walks away.
  • Lutz locks Antonina in a cage and takes Ryzard into a barn where a gunshot is heard. He doesn’t actually shoot Ryzard but this is a suspenseful moment when it appears that he has shot him and Antonina is sobbing

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The dead animals would particularly upset young children.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • The start of the movie sets a scene where Antonina has a very close relationship with the animals in the zoo. She calls them all by name and hand feeds them. In one scene, an elephant gives birth to a calf that appears dead. Antonina talks gently to the mother elephant and moves in to help the baby. She gently compresses the baby’s heart while the mother’s trunk is over her shoulder and the baby starts breathing. This is quite intense but it also makes it even more upsetting when these animals are shot by the German soldiers.
  • The zookeepers are shown picking up the dead animals and carting them off in wheelbarrows.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Children in this age group would also be disturbed by the death of the animals.
  • Children are hidden in large bins and covered in food waste.
  • Young children have difficulty getting onto the train and put their arms up for help. Jan reluctantly lifts them up onto the train.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Young people over thirteen would also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.
  • The scenes in the ghetto are quite upsetting – people are starving and dead bodies are seen on the street. Bodies are carted away.
  • The young girl who was obviously raped is extremely traumatised. Jan manages to get her out of the ghetto but it is a very long time before she will speak to anybody.

Product placement

  • None

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Two soldiers leer at a young girl, touch her hair and clothes and take her off into a barn where she is obviously raped (not actually shown).
  • Lutz often gets very close to Antonina, brushing up against her, washing her arms and generally being overly familiar with her. Antonina goes along with this as she feels she has no choice.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Jan and Antonina are shown in bed together, naked from the waist up.
  • Bison are shown mating (as part of Lutz’s breeding programme) and soldiers cheer them on.
  • Jan and Antonina kiss passionately and start undressing each other. Sex is implied but not shown.
  • Lutz appears as if he’s going to rape Antonina – tearing at her clothes and dragging her forcefully onto a couch while she’s resisting but he has a change of heart at the last minute.

Use of substances

  • Smoking and drinking throughout.

Coarse language

  • None of concern

In a nutshell

The Zookeeper’s Wife is a true drama story of heroic and brave people that helped others escape from the horrors of Nazi occupied Warsaw. The story is very powerful and well told, however it is quite intense and covers very distressing material. It is therefore not recommended for young people under 15.

The main messages from this movie are the importance of standing up for what you believe in even at great cost to yourself and to oppose evil when it arises.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Bravery
  • Heroism
  • Self sacrifice
  • Caring for others
  • Opposing evil
  • Humanitarianism
  • Compassion

 

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as.

  • The results of what happens when society starts segregating people on racial or religious lines.

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