"The Zookeeper's Wife" as historical romance
A Polish zoologist and his wife maintain a zoo which is utopia, realized. The people who work there are blissfully satisfied and happy. The caged animals aren't distraught but rather, very satisfied. These animals have been very well attended to, and have developed so healthily for it that they almost seem proud to display what is distinctively excellent about them for viewers to enjoy. But there is a shadow coming--Nazis! The Nazis literally blow apart much of this happy configuration. Many of the animals die. But the zookeeper's wife is a prize any Nazi officer would covet, and the Nazi's chief zoologist is interested in claiming her for his own. So if there can be some pretence that would allow for her and her husband to keep their zoo in piece rather than be destroyed for war supplies, he's willing to concede it.
The zookeeper and his wife want to try and use their zoo to house as many Jews as they can. They approach the stately quarters of Hitler's zoologist in Berlin and request that the zoo be made into a pig farm. That way, they explain, the officers get their meat and the zoo has a justified reason for continuing to exist, more or less in its current condition. They are granted this, and through having convinced the Hitler's zoologist that slops to feed the pigs could be gotten from the ghetto, they manage to extricate a good number of Jews--the slops are poured over them, thus hiding them--and find home for them within their zoo.
The zookeeper's wife has to pretend she's interested in Hitler's zoologist so to make him more likely to camouflage in his mind anything he notices that might seem awry in her domicile. It makes her husband jealous and angry, but this proves a strife that gets remedied by a masculine display on his part, when he begets another child from her after making love to her in a manly, self-assured manner.
Things begin to be looking to be going very badly awry near the end of the war. Her husband gets shot in action, after he joins the resistance, and it is unknown whether he survived or not. It is known he was taken captive, though, and in an attempt to determine whether her husband is actually alive, she undertakes the dangerous proposition of trying to beguile while also simultaneously managing, the Hitler's zoologist, so he would be moved to make some inquiries. By this time, however, Hitler's zoologist has more than cottoned on to the fact that she and her husband have been lying to him, and rather than being beguiled by her he proceeds to "take" what she is ostensibly ready to give--she dresses in such a fashion to be overtly understood as be willing to provide "more," so at the very least to flatter his sense of his own situational power of her--and moves to rape her.
She makes him desist, however, by letting him know she always thought him "disgusting." He apparently chooses instead to get a squad over to the zoo to scout out and kill every Jew hidden there--that's where his desire to rape will get displaced, and thereby ostensibly prove magnified in wreckage. But she gets there before him, and helps them all get away. When Hitler's zoologist does arrive, he makes as if to kill her son, but he desists after she proclaims him not the kind of man who would do something as awful as that.
Hitler's zoologist and his troops leave, for sure to find themselves soon hanged, as the Russian' advance spells the eventual sure doom of the German' war effort; the zookeeper's wife and her Jewish friends begin to create a human community within the confines of the zoo; and her husband ends up returning, in physically intact form.
So what do we do with a story like this other than classify it as romance? I know it was made under the assumption that it is showing you something one wouldn't want yourself to find yourself party to, but it is difficult to see how it accomplishes this. I took it, in fact, as something that would be one of the options you'd inject into the mind of someone who'd actually pay for the experience, as their own chosen "Total Recall" experience. Something that afterwards would momentarily make you feel invigorated and renewed.
Here's how it could have been amended so that it would actually be what it pretends it wants to be, something that would have been quite terrible to have had to live through:
1) Don't be afraid to the show the zoo as something a 21st-century zoologist or animal rights activist would see it as: as not necessarily built out of the most sordid motivations possible, but not of the most benign, either. It may have lifted up many people's lives, but don't be afraid to show animals clearly distraught for having to do make do with very small confines, built by people who were so deliberately clueless as to animals needs, so eager to project their own infantile experiences of tight confines onto them, they couldn't imagine this a concern at all.
2) Don't embrace anyone's unconscious desire for a culling that can actually secretly be pleasing. Don't make sure to show how even after many large herbivores die to the Nazi's bombing--buffalos and elephants--the lithe, aristocratic lions and tigers escaped harm entirely (Yes, a polar bear dies; but we attended to it for like two seconds, as we visually scrolled through numerous animals as we were acquainted with the zoo, whereas the might of the lions and tigers got a full showing, as if they were truly nature's lords, for being sovereign over something as exciting and creature-populated as a Savanah or a deep Indian forest rather than forlorn empty ledges of rock and ice. And besides, there is nothing "lithe," and therefore aristocratic, about a hippy, fatty polar bear.). Show one of the cubs sprawled in death as well, perhaps after showing how something banal like an antelope made it through okay.
3) People may have been happy working there, but it seems a bit too much the educated, gentry country couple surveying their peaceful empire, where everyone not only knows their place but is profoundly satisfied within them. It seems a bit too much the American South as it is presented in "Gone with the Wind." Incidentally, this makes the Nazis an entity not actually likely mostly cognitively understood in people's minds under category "racist," but rather as pillagers of Utopia. And so the viewers who enjoy this narrative are positioned so that if they were to re-watch "Gone with the Wind," their inclinations would unconsciously be to hate the less-rascist invading predatory North and cheer for the overt-rascist, idyllic South.
4) Overtly acknowledge that the attentions of Hitler's zoologist upon the zookeeper's wife are conveyed so that they would be flattering and even enjoyed by her, that they function almost as a kind of pleasing logical necessity, a requisite companion. He's not always grace personified, but the film did not choose an overt bore to serve as the zoologist but clearly someone who possessed aspects the zookeeper seemed due not to possess for needing to fit a certain masculine type, a certain fantasy image of fused gentleman and labourer. These would include charm and a capacity to flirt, as well as verbal felicity and a courtier's ability to thrive in all possible social situations, used here for instance to instantly turn someone's overheard insult towards the zookeeper's wife into a striking complement. The film clearly intends for the viewer, if they're imagining themselves in her role, to be pleased in Hitler's zoologist taking an interest in her, even as it later pretends this as only ever as an encumbrance--I was disgusted the whole time!
As well, if you're going to make the zoo seem a "Narnia"--as New Republic's Jacob Soll calls it--a kind of thing that registers as a form of Utopia in our minds, allow for the fact that encouraging our categorizing it as such primes us to recognize other types of Utopias in the narrative, if they at all resemble other ones we might be familiar with. Namely, if you present us with such clear pastoral Utopia, be careful how you present would-be aristocratic courts in the narrative for they may work to make the like of Nazi palaces work as more a complement than as an anti-thesis, as the Beast's castle serves Belle's country home in "Beauty and the Beast," for instance. If what we have here is ostensibly just gross Nazi conquest, we shouldn't really be thinking on how Nazi officers' smart, form-fitting uniforms nicely contrast with loose country gentleman style, which we in fact do do here. When we meet Nazi officers, we should instead be sensing psychological pervasion in their tastes--Why do they like things so tight? Are they afraid of falling apart?--and it's not at play here. (The stuffed bald eagle might not even work in the film as it is intended to, for it "works" well in the stately room it's in as decoration.)
5) If what you really want to convey is how much you hate the fact that Jews were killed, don't allow us to leave the film pleased as if the film put the protagonist into a situation that was really testing, that may have recalled some past horror in her own life, but came out of it without much accrued harm. She loses two Jews she's rescued, but both of them in our minds are ones categorized as representing "too much pressing of one's luck"--as sort of guiltily complicit. Specifically, after showing the successful exportation of two Jewish women by dressing them up as Germans, we feel immediately that the next two probably won't make it through, that they'll find themselves found out and killed, because otherwise it would make the Germans seem just too stupid, and therefore their collective situation, not quite as satisfyingly dangerous as intended to be made to seem.
6) Hitler's zoologist is a patsy for viewer' fantasy needs throughout. He exists as so dangerous an uber-predator so that the heroes of the film can take that much greater pleasure in eventually triumphantly telling him off. The zookeeper does it, when he reminds him that he could in fact break him in two, that he was by no means the absolutely cowed, abject slave we are at times intended to "enjoy" him as, for it heightening our pleasure in being momentarily cozily cloistered with him as we tremble before Nazi' power; the son does it when he brazenly does a mock Nazi salute, intended for the Nazi zoologist to hear; and the wife does it when she tells him she always thought him "disgusting." All without consequence. The husband isn't shot for physically intimidating a Nazi officer. The son isn't shot for his version of burning the flag. And the wife isn't shot in un-manning him when he is trying to be his most vengeful and terrifying. And no one else is made to suffer for all their umbrage either.
Don't do this. Don't pretend you're showing us the most scary people imaginable, and yet make them so impotent when we require they suddenly be relaxed in their ability to cause harm. Don't make them seem ultimately so easy to take advantage of: I blanched when, after discovering how absolutely used he had been, how much a fool he'd been made of, Hitler's chief zoologist is yet deterred from killing the zookeeper's wife's son by her appeal to him as too much a gentleman to do anything like that. Wow, how can you buy someone that ridiculously compliant to your moment-by-moment needs? First the film wants to reveal him as absolutely corrupt by having him casually shoot and kill a bald eagle he ostensibly only reveres. And now you want him to be deterred from doing something you couldn't discount as a manageable loss, by his still needing to feel obliged to act according to principle! -- and by someone he'd surely deem as having already rashly and foolishly sacrificed her use of this tool of persuasion, so to feast on denigrating him.
Don't do this, because it makes this narrative seem secretly enjoyable to the viewer. And if the future ever presents us with what appears to be a simulacrum of 1939, maybe we'll be unconsciously excited by the prospects. Maybe, we might be more prone to think, it'll afford us a "Zookeeper's Wife" situation too, where we're noble in action, and acquire the best kind of evidence we are heroic at the core, while others suffer the tough stuff?
Also don't pretend that in making one of the protagonists a Jewish girl who'd been raped that you'd only shown us something of horror, something we wouldn't actually be pleased to have had dropped into the narrative. For what she is in this work is something that more belongs in some situation a half century hence, where someone who has been brutally traumatized can be very slowly nurtured back into a mostly fully restored situation, in a warm, profoundly provisioning surround. She's a virtual impossibility in wartime, which at best can be only make-do; but the fact that she, that her miraculous recovery, exists nonetheless, shows the zoo as a powerful resilient force, possessed of superhuman capacities of healing-- and who is that a credit to? She serves as a source of a further powerful source of efficacy for the zookeeper's wife, who so helps facilitate her recovery and the expansion of her artistic imagination that she ends up the penultimate source of humiliation and mockery afforded the Nazi zoologist! He thought he was wiping out everything ostensibly vile from the Earth--the Jews--when before his nose was growing a spectacularly beautiful source of art, resilience, and love from out of this very "contagion." What mockery! Poor Germans--even as they were trying to be most imposing they couldn't help but remain absolutely ineffectual, ultimately only deterring great avenues of spiritual expression underground.
Now of course there remains the fact that many children and one particularly kind Jewish intellectual, don't get saved, don't live, and in fact get shipped off to the ovens. How can this not work to sodden all pleasure to be derived out of the narrative? Well, as this film shows, this too proves do-able. One thing, don't get us involved with the doomed children in any significant way. They can't be characters afforded time for one to be acquainted with. Categorically, they thereby remain components of a crowd, satisfyingly not lent the saving flame of inner life, of soul, touched on every other character on the good side we become acquainted with. They remain categorically different; inferiour. They died like the bear and buffalo did in the air raids; but those who ostensibly truly matter, like the lions and tigers, were graced by the raids in their actually being deemed too good to go down in a culling.
And what you do with the elder intellectual is present him as involved in a situation where it would be somehow inopportune--that we as viewers would feel justified to judge and hate him for it--if he agreed to take up an offer of rescue. And you do this by presenting him with this ostensibly sincere offer of escape, just when he is serving as a kindly old man trying to calm children down with sweet lies about where they've being moved to, while they are being lead into trains towards what he knows is their certain doom. He is instantly made an object of kitsch, one we're intended to savour, and who only keeps our appreciation of him as he serves out sentimental purpose. Think on if in the presented situation he actually chose to forsake the children and took the emerged route to safety. Sorry kids! But it looks like this lovely journey to wonderland is only going to be for you lucky lot to savor! How I wish I could be you! He'd instantly become a load we'd want to dump off us as soon as possible, for he'd aggrieve us as being someone whom we couldn't allow ourselves to consciously hate, but whom we urgently do hate for denying us our use of him as sentimental satisfaction. And boy, would he ever know it.
The Nazis hated Freud. If we want to keep faith with cosmopolitan values we should more inclined to create narratives where people behave not so much as we might wish they would but as they really do. Don't pretend to but actually be interested in and show the complexity. It's not being brave to show that a man might become angry at his wife for garnering another's attention, but a matter of script! It's not brave to show that a woman would pretend to be interested in a villain so to save her husband, but a matter of script! And what then do we do when we can't help but notice people behaving differently in similar situations--do we feel unconsciously compelled to be repulsed by their actions, to be angry at them for arousing cognitive dissonance that creates mental disequilibrium, a disequilibrium we've never truly been trained to get used to?
This film wants us to so feel clean afterwards it doesn't allow any of the character's we like to have any justified source of guilt, even as it spotlighted as a possible persistent concern at the beginning. It proves inconsequential that the zookeeper's wife wanted her son to be safe from always running away, and so kept him within Nazi' observation and possible doom when he could perhaps have completely escaped it by their leaving Warsaw before the Germans got there, for he doesn't die, he doesn't incur any harm at all. She worries that she was ultimately responsible for the two Jewish women she'd dressed up as Germans being killed, for not having articulated their appearance in a sufficiently persuasive manner. But she is assured authoritatively that it had nothing to do with this at all; that they had simply been ratted out in the new dwelling place they'd found themselves in. No guilt, nothing averse, lies on any of them. They're all just so straightforwardly good and impressive, the oppressed doing what they can to work against evil oppressors. Surely there must have been hundreds of films built of similarly self-flattering characterizations made during the Nazi-era by Nazis, showing how the ostensibly bullied German populace managed the ostensible threat of "Capitalist exploiters" and "power-bent Jews" during the Weimar era?; showing how they escaped notice and found yet enough strength within themselves to thrive until the military resistance arrived, leaving ample evidence along the way that nothing so great as their intrinsically superior spiritual selves couldn't helped but found proud way to have thrived even when the enemy was at its most arrogant and pressing?
There is a way to show us as convincingly different so we're not actually already entertaining on a diet of narrative the enemy is hoping only to train us to come to like. Be discouraged at how the film secretly makes something dark, mostly into a historical romance.