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Sophie's Choice (1982 - R)
"Sophie's Choice" is the beautiful film about one woman's trials through and after the WWII as a woman who survived the Nazi concentration camps only to feel forever doomed thereafter. Escaping to the U.S., Sophie meets and falls in love with the charismatic man who saved her life, Nathan. But from Nathan, and eventually a third party, newcomer Stingo, a Southern writer searching for life's meaning, Sophie hides all of her dark lies and memories that surround her life in Auschwitz; a life that she continually tries to drown out in the love of Nathan and friendship of Stingo. But just as Sophie had to make a painful choice during her stay in Auschwitz, so too will Sophie make another tragic choice in the painful aftermath of her survival of her horrific past; a decision that will forever alter the way Stingo looks at life then on.
Written and directed by: Alan J. Pakula.
Genre: Drama, Romance.
Rated: R for intense thematic content, brief drug references and language, and some sexuality.
The film commences 2 years after the end of WWII as a young Southern boy by the name of Stingo (Peter MacNicol) heads out to New York find himself and become a writer. But, as Stingo notes, he has yet to learn of love, and death, comedy, and tragedy, and so he has yet to find his story.
After Stingo finds a beautiful old mansion which is owned by a lady named Yetta (Rita Karin) who is subletting the rooms, he discovers the memorable Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) and Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). As he comes to learn, Sophie and Nathan are hopelessly in love with one another, but sometimes their love is volatile, and violent. Nevertheless, hopelessly in love they are and Stingo watches the two dote over one another as the three become the best of friends. A survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, Sophie loves to tell of how Nathan saved her life, and so the movie flashes back and shows how the charismatic Nathan comes to Sophie's rescue before she dies of malnutrition and anemia. Nathan's brother, who happens to be a doctor, helps nurse her back to care while Nathan stays by Sophie's side 24/7 reading her the romantic poetry of Emily Dickinson.
The movie then flashes back to 1947 where Stingo is about to learn about love, or so he thinks, via the enticing Leslie Lepidus (Greta Turken) who can talk of nothing else but the famous four letter Anglo Saxon word for sex. But of course as Stingo observes, Leslie can talk of sex but she cannot do it. That's when Sophie shows her what real love is, in friendship and compatibility. As she tells him her harrowing tale of her survival through the war and the internment camps, and the death of her parents and her husband, Nathan begins to suspect that Sophie is not being faithful and a huge fight between all three results in Sophie's expedient leave, Nathan's disappearance, and Stingo's contemplation of returning to the South.
As Sophie returns to say goodbye to Stingo she tells him of her haunting past and the lies she has been telling to cover up her shame of the past. In 1938 Sophie is working in her father's office retyping his speeches when she discovers that her father proposes to exterminate the Jews in Poland. Sophie's fear provoked her to go to the ghettos and observe these people condemned to die. Rushing home to finish her father's speech, she made many mistakes and when her father stumbles through the speech at an important conference he condemns his daughter and exiles her.
So she goes to live with a lover in Warsaw, Josef, leaving behind her family and husband, to live with him and his sister, Wanda, but two weeks later her lover was killed. Soon thereafter, Sophie and her children were arrested and sent to Auschwitz where her son Jan was sent to the children's camp and her daughter Eva was exterminated. Because of her fluent German and secretarial skills, Sophie was spared and allowed to work for the Nazi regime as a secretary. There, she attempts to persuade the Commandant that she is against the Jews in hopes she will be freed, but instead he comes to sympathize with her beauty and not her plight. But Sophie is able to charm her way into the confidence of the Commandant and his daughter, Emmi; though the confidence wasn't of much avail and though Sophie manages to survive the liberation, she never hears from her son again.
So the film pans back to 1947 where Stingo comforts Sophie in her painful confession just as soon as they notice Nathan has returned and all is well again; for the moment, Nathan's terrible temper has subsided. A call from Nathan's brother reveals that Nathan's temper may spark from a mental disease; paranoid schizophrenia, for which he takes heavy doses of drugs, both prescriptive and recreational. The juxtaposition of drugs and illness in time, turns Nathan from the gifted prodigal man to a tragic mentally ill mad man who now threatens to either take Sophie's and Stingo's life or his own. As Stingo continues to comfort Sophie he begins to fall in love with her and proposes to marry her and take care of her and rescue her from the instability of Nathan's volatile temper.
But the talk of marriage and kids provokes Sophie to tell of her most haunting memory; the memory of her choice. And though Stingo forgives her and takes her in his arms anyways, Sophie wakes only to return to Nathan whereby together the two lovers will meet their end at last, leaving Stingo with the painful memory of all that they were, both in the days before and the days with him as their best friend.
Based on a true story as fictionalized and expanded by William Styron's novel SOPHIE'S CHOICE, the film adaptation is a poignant and haunting film that covers the emotional spectrum of the historic and the personal as if personified in the trials and tribulations of Sophie, and how her fateful life affects everyone she meets, from Nazi officer, to Southern writer. Titled SOPHIE'S CHOICE the move sets up the haunting telling of Sophie's painful choice in the interment camps, but more than that, the film depicts her constant necessity to l make painful decisions, including that of taking her own life. Though the film is very much a tale of a doomed woman forever fated by her past, SOPHIE'S CHOICE is also a timeless tale of the power, the sheer force of an unwavering magnitude of love and its blinding, sometimes violent effect on people.
But despite whatever harmful acts or violent words may surround the bad times, in the end, the lovers will go in peace, together, as they should. As the film depicts the "butchered, betrayed, martyred children of the earth", SOPHIE'S CHOICE brings to the silver screen three of the most memorable and powerful characters of literature all juxtaposed, through time-lines and national differences, the Polish Woman, Northern Jew, and Southern Writer all conflate and merge in a house as friends 'til death do them part, and each personality shines vividly on its own. But always there is Sophie and her choices affecting all three; their happiness, their opinions, their fate.
Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol are dazzling in their roles as Nathan and Stingo respectively. Kevin Kline plays the vivacious, rapacious, tenuously brilliant man splendidly as does MacNicol and his performance as a young, naïve, Southern writer who comes of age through the acquiescence of the weather beaten trails blazed by his best friends. Meryl Streep is simply ravishing, captivating, as Sophie, a tragically fated woman determined to escape the nightmare of her past through the overwhelming sensual love of Nathan. Winning the Oscar for Best Actress, Meryl perfects the Polish accent, one of just many astounding feats accomplished in her haunting portrayal of a WWII Nazi concentration camp survivor who lost everything she loved only to find a fateful love in the end with Nathan Landau.
SOPHIE'S CHOICE is spell-binding as a haunting, elegiac tribute, an ode if you will, to the compelling complexity of the human condition and its affectation from its external environment; coming of age, love, lust, innocence, experience, and tragedy. The film is a highly psychological film that alludes to the concept of 'survivors guilt' which exudes in both Sophie, a surviving Nazi camp member, and Nathan, a displaced Jew safe from harm in America; a man unable to fight the war, or bear the suffering, or die with the rest.
SOPHIE'S CHOICE is a beautiful piece of work that combines the tasteful artistry of visual portrayal supported by a masterful yet evocative score that lingers long after the final scene. With an Oscar, 11 wins, and 10 other nominations, SOPHIE'S CHOICE is a poignant cinematic classic to with stand the years.
Meryl Streep plays Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish woman who survived the horrors of the German concentration camps during WWII, who migrates to the U.S. and escapes the horrors of her past in the love of Nathan Landau.
Kevin Kline plays Nathan Landau; the tragically charismatic yet mentally ill American Jewish man who saves Sophie's life only to fatefully affect both their lives in the end.
Peter MacNicol plays Stingo, the naïve Southern boy who moves to New York to find love and write his genuine masterpiece; his American opus.
Greta Turken plays Leslie Lapidus, Stingo's first taste of love, or last.