Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler: Movie Review

::Spoiler Alert!::

It’s the early 1940’s in Warsaw, Poland. Two years into the war and earlier that year the Germans pushed the Russians back into the Soviet Union and claimed complete control of Poland. The Nazi death machine is in full swing. The Jewish citizens have been living in the ghetto for some time now yet optimistically hope for the best. However, a handful of people sees the truth for what it is; the German’s ultimate goal is to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. Irena Sendler, a young social worker in Warsaw, works inside the ghetto. As the situation continues to decline, she along with other resistance fighters and members of Zegota work feverishly to rescue children from the German’s clutches. By the war’s end she saves 2,500 children, twice as many people as Oscar Schindler.
“The Courageous Heart” follows Irena’s life from when she began her mission of saving children to her own arrest and going into hiding herself. Anna Paquin brings Irena Sendler to life as a spunky and brave young woman who nearly loses her life for a cause that she believes in. Marcia Gay Harden portrays Irena’s sickly but supportive mother. And Goran Visnjic, is handsome and trustworthy Stefan, Irena’s love interest.

While I absolutely loved this movie, I would caution that this movie is not suited for children or young teens. Keep in mind that most of the scenes feature Irena in the ghetto and though Hallmark didn’t do anything too graphic, there are innocent people shown being fatally shot; starvation and disease runs rampant in the ghetto. Orphan children are herded into a cattle car destined for a concentration camp. At one point a boy and his father are included in one of the transports, and the father makes the dangerously risks his son’s life by crushing the floorboards and pushing his son through the hole. The most gruesome part of the entire movie is the last twenty minutes when Irena is arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated. When she isn’t forthcoming about her clandestine work, the Gestapo agents restrain her and beat her legs, repeatedly. Her feet are broken and she is unable to walk on her own, so the agents drag her up a flight of stairs for interrogations and back down again to her cell, at least twice. Her cellmates bandage her feet for her. When Irena and several others are sent to be executed, it is then that she is freed thanks to Zegota.

Sex and Nudity:
Sex and nudity is non-existent, and for a movie about the holocaust that is unusual. There is a sweet relationship between Irena and her friend Stefan. After he comes to hide in the Sendler’s apartment, he is shown working on a secret hiding place in one of the wardrobes. He shows Irena and the two get locked in. They share a kiss then and again at the end of the movie when they are reunited.

“The Courageous Heart” shows Irena, her mother and the other working in the resistance as respecters of all peoples and religions. Irena, herself is a Catholic, but never goes so far as pushing her religion on others. She does admit to the parents of the children that she rescues that the children will be put in Christian families and will have to disguise themselves as Christians for their own protection. Jewish parents are torn between sending their children to live with Christian strangers and live as Christians or watch their children perish along with them. Irena and other resistance workers are shown teaching children Christian prayers, how to cross themselves and other elements of the Catholic faith in order to save them.

Overall Opinion:
One thing I did notice is that Irena and her mother are referred to as “Miss Sendler” and “Mrs. Sendler,” respectively. And Stefan was given a different last name. In reality that is incorrect. Stefan’s last name was Sendler and Irena only gained that name when she married him. The only reason I can think of for Hallmark doing this is that Irena is not known by her maiden name and it might have been too confusing to refer to her as such. Other than that, I have no other nit-picks. Great production, superb acting. The only other projects I have seen Anna Paquin in was when she played young Jane in “Jane Eyre” and a leading role in “Fly Away Home.” However, I’ll keep my eye out for any of her movies now. This movie also interests me in reading Irena Sendler’s own autobiography “Life in a Jar,” and Ana Mieszkowska’s biography, “Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story” on which this movie is based.


  1. I knew you'd do a review on this!!!!!!

  2. Mieczysław Sendler (m. 1931–1947) was her fist husband and Stefan Zgrzembski (m. 1947–1959) was her second. She had all her kids with Stefan. I'm writing a paper on her so it lead me to your website and I just double checked that point you made!