This movie churned in my mind and heart for a long while after watching it. If you're going to watch it yourself, stop here to avoid me spoiling my favorite part of the film.
Each night, Antonina, the zookeeper's wife, played the piano once the guards were gone for the day around midnight. Her playing was the signal that the coast was clear. The children, women, and men hiding in the basement then started making their way up into the living room to share in the music, and to sit down for a meal together.
There's an especially touching scene that I keep replaying in my head. The zookeeper rescues a good friend and brings him to the house secretly. The friend is on the couch the night of his rescue, telling them to bring him back, that it's just too risky for them to hide him. Just then, Antonina begins to play the piano, and people begin filling the room. The man, so moved as he realizes what has been going on, begins to weep.
Such beauty and power in this protest of love.
As I reflect on the film, I wonder how we can best face the threats to our integrity, our peace, even our human survival in a way that has as much grace and power. What is it that brings the threats into check; what turns the pendulum in the other direction; what brings peace?
If Antonina and her husband had chosen to spit on the guards, to resist them, to oppose them at every encounter: they would not have saved a single person. They would just be added to the list of casualties of the war.
As it was, by seemingly cooperating with the Nazis, helping them raise food, interacting with them cordially, they were able to save around 300 people. And not only did they save their bodies. The kindness and goodness the zookeeper and his wife showed was a healing balm on the wounds those people suffered from the horrific treatment they had received.
The zookeeper and his wife display a quality that seems so rare and important to me, one that's hard for me to fully articulate. Courageous, loving, strategic, kind. The way they move and act in this film feels like an integrated balance of masculine and feminine qualities that bring a great and powerful light to the darkness.
I feel inspired thinking of it, wondering how the injustices of poverty, violence, war, mass incarceration might be met by that same rare and beautiful quality.