Monday, September 5, 2011

Sophie's Choice

Sophie’s Choice was released in 1982 and is based on the novel of the same name  written by William Styron. It stars Meryl Streep (The Devil wears Prada), Kevin Kline (In and Out, A fish named Wanda) and Peter McNicol (who younger readers might know better as John Cage in the Ally McBeal series) and was directed by Alan J Pakula (The Pelican Brief, Presumed Innocent, All the President’s Men).

Stingo (McNicol) is a young writer who arrives in Brooklyn and meets Polish immigrant Sophie and her lover Nathan in a boarding house. 

Sophie is a survivor of Auschwitz and Nathan a Jewish biologist, and the two have a passionnate and destructive relationship. Nathan is jealous and has violent outbursts of jealousy.

Nathan Landau: You spent the whole fucking afternoon with him, or should I say, you spent the whole afternoon fucking him.

The three become rapid friends, and Stingo, the narrator, gradually discovers Sophie’s past.

SS officer: You believe in Christ the redeemer?
Sophie: Yes.
SS officer: [looks at Sophie's children] Did He not say... "Suffer the children, come unto me?"
[Sophie remains silent]
SS officer: You may keep one of your children.
Sophie: I beg your pardon?
SS officer: You may keep one of your children. The other must go away.
Sophie: You mean, I have to choose?

It is a bit difficult to know what the film is exactly about: victims of the Nazis or a very twisted love story. I believe it can be viewed as both.
Meryl Streep got the Best Actress Oscar for her shining performance, which is also rated number 3 in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, and that is indeed the best performance I have ever seen. As I understand it, Meryl Streep literally begged Alan Pakula for this role, on her knees. In addition, in 2007 the American Film Institute ranked this as the number 91 Greatest Movie of All Time

Meryl Streep portrays a tormented character who is suffering from her experience in Auschwitz and from the hardest decision she’s ever had to make. Nathan is her reason for living. Despite his tormented personality, Sophie remains with him. Why? Sophie battles her grief and remorse, Nathan lives battling his disorder and hiding it from everyone. The film is about Sophie’s choice, but also about the choices she made after that, including her decision to remain whith Nathan, as damaged as she is. Together they seem perfectly happy, and they are when together, but when separated their worst feelings of misery  and self hating are showing.

Meryl Streep simply magnificent, making her character incredibly authentic, with her mastery of German and Polish, also conveying the image of a damaged, doomed yet benevolent character. The best performance ever.

Sophie's Choice is a rare and powerful movie.

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