SOPHIE’S CHOICE. (1982) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY WILLIAM STYRON. DIRECTED BY/SCREENPLAY BY/CO-PRODUCED BY ALAN J. PAKULA. MUSIC BY MARVIN HAMLISCH. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY NESTOR ALMENDROS.
STARRING MERYL STREEP, KEVIN KLINE AND PETER MACNICOL AND GÜNTHER MARIA HALMER.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I must confess that, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t read the novel on which this film is based, but I bloody love the film. It’s the story of a Polish immigrant, the titular Sophie, who in 1947 is living in a boarding-house in Brooklyn with her emotionally unstable lover Nathan.
Into this mix- and their boarding-house- comes a young writer from the Deep South with the utterly improbable name of Stingo. Sophie mistakenly calls him ‘Stinko’ at one point. I think that’s what I’ll call him too. I didn’t dislike his character as such but I considered him to be way too involved in Sophie and Nathan’s relationship. All up in their business, you might say.
True, I know it’s the flamboyant couple in the upstairs apartment who invite Stinko into their lives in the first place, but as a third wheel he’s only asking for trouble. It seems like Sophie and Nathan are the kind of people who constantly need an audience for their passionate shenanigans, their break-ups and make-ups and even their sex.
They’re possibly not a terribly likeable couple. Sophie is needy and craves attention, which is hardly surprising considering what she’s been through, but her overly-affectionate behaviour towards Stinko gives him totally the wrong idea and, before you can say ‘gooseberry,’ he’s head-over-heels in love with her and hanging on her every word.
I suppose that that’s hardly surprising either, given that Stinko is only twenty-two and an impressionable virgin and Sophie is a beautiful woman of the world with a fabulously sexy Polish accent and a dreadful sadness behind her smile.
I’ve never been that big a fan of Meryl Streep’s, oddly enough, but she totally deserved the Best Actress Oscar she won for her role as Sophie. The film was nominated for four other Academy Awards as well, and Streep’s characterization of the tragic Sophie was voted the third best movie performance of all time by PREMIERE MAGAZINE. Hot damn, I wish I knew who made the Top Two…!
I’m not forgetting the character of Nathan, Sophie’s lover, by the way. Played by Kevin Kline, another actor whom I’ve never really cared for, he’s an emotionally abusive headwrecker of a boyfriend with actual serious mental problems.
He ridicules Stinko’s writing- ‘your poor dead mother!’- and he’s constantly accusing ‘the little Polack whore’ of infidelity. He thinks she’s at it with Stinko, though you can hardly blame him, given the enthusiasm with which Stinko leaped head-first into the highly destructive emotional triangle that bodes trouble for each of its three points from the moment it’s created.
For the things Nathan says alone, Sophie should leave him, but of course she doesn’t. She’s up to her tonsils in this toxic relationship. Nathan was slick enough when he wooed her but, once they were established as a couple, his true colours as a nasty piece of work probably came quickly enough to light. Sophie spends half her life waiting for him to come home from drink-and-drug-fuelled benders and his verbal abuse of her is disgusting to witness.
Nathan, a Jew, has a bee in his bonnet about Sophie’s having been in a concentration camp and survived the horrific ordeal. It’s almost as if he resents her for having survived when literally millions of others didn’t. She survived, yes, but at what personal cost to herself? If Nathan even knew the half of it, maybe he’d shut the hell up and give the lady a break.
The two concentration camp flashbacks are my favourite scenes in the movie. Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz when Sophie was incarcerated there, is portrayed as both a slobbering sexual predator and a morally weak chinless wonder who doesn’t keep his promise to a desperate woman in his care and in his power. The scenes concerning Sophie’s titular ‘choice’ are painful and harrowing. You won’t sleep easy after watching them, I promise you.
The phrase ‘Sophie’s Choice’ has kind of passed into popular culture and language as signifying a difficult choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives. I tend to use it at home a lot (in an affectionate way, I might add!) when it comes to deciding between pizza toppings or choice of desserts, haha. Not that you should ever have to choose between desserts, if you get me…!
The ending of the film is unexpected and shocking but, in all seriousness, how else could it all have ended up? This would be a good film to watch late at night over Christmas when the kids’ new toys are already broken and everyone’s tired of seeing repeats of ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’ or ‘THE SNOWMAN,’ haha. Settle down with the remains of the selection boxes and seasonal TAYTO packs and get lost in a great story. Sorted…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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