91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

“Sophie is the survivor of Nazi concentration camps, who has found a reason to live in Nathan, a sparkling if unsteady American Jew obsessed with the Holocaust. They befriend Stingo, the movie’s narrator, a young American writer new to New York City. But the happiness of Sophie and Nathan is endangered by her ghosts and his obsessions.”

Let me begin by saying that I was in no way prepared for the sadness that this movie would ultimately bring me. All I knew about this film before watching it was that 1. Meryl is in it and 2. “Sophie’s Choice” is some choice she has to make involving her children. I did not know, however, the horror of that choice until I watched the film.

It is very easy to see why this film is on the “100 Greatest Films” list. First of all, it’s historical. Second, the music and sets are unbelievable. Third, the acting is phenomenal. And fourth, it is heart wrenching.

Every actor in the film does a phenomenal job. I completely forgot as I was watching the film that I was, in fact, watching Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep on screen. Even Peter MacNicol did a wonderful job, and I only knew him  as the crazy guy in Ghostbusters 2 and as the creepy older doctor from Grey’s Anatomy.

Crazy guy in Ghostbusters 2
See. Crazy guy. Ghostbusters 2.
Creepy, older doctor hitting on younger women, making everybody uncomfortable.

I must say, thought, it is absolutely wonderful to watch a film and forget that you are watching actors portray people. It’s one of my favorite things when it comes to movies.

The set design was unbelievable. It reflected the time period of the film perfectly, and was incredibly detailed. Throughout the film, I caught myself looking in the background of some scenes just mesmerized by the amount of detail that was put into everything. Same goes for the costumes. They were amazing, well crafted, and beautiful.

The music was something that I noticed immediately. It worked well with the actors. The music didn’t tell the audience how to feel, like it does in most things. The actor’s did that in this film. Instead, the music emphasized what was already being portrayed on screen. And that just enhanced the scenes that much more, making the film even more memorable.

The cinematography is incredibly beautiful. The framing and lighting is spot on the entire film. This stood out the most to me during the scene where Nathan and Sophie are dancing. It is breathtaking.

This film, and the way that Sophie’s story is told, reminded me of how Gatsby’s story is told in The Great Gatsby. The whole story, although focusing on the title character is shown through a secondary character. In the case of Sophie’s Choice, that character is Stingo. He is the central character of the film, while Sophie is the central character in his life. I also thought it was interesting that, in a story about Germany and the Holocaust, a non-Jewish woman is the victim. In that way, this film shows that the Holocaust was not a strictly Jewish tragedy. Everybody suffered. And, in a way, I think that made Kevin Kline’s character, Nathan, quite angry. Angry because he is Jewish and because he suffers from (spoiler) a mental illness, he wasn’t even allowed to enlist in the war. He didn’t suffer as the European Jews had. He hadn’t suffered like his Polish-Catholic sweetie had, and this frustrates him.

This is, over all, such a tragic story. It is a tragic story of Sophie, a woman who had to choose which one of her two children lived. She had contemplated suicide before and, in a way, I think that’s why she kept returning to Nathan, even after he would be unbearable mean to her. She felt that she should suffer for the choices she had made. Part of me also thinks that she knew that one day Nathan would kill her, would kill her and him both. He was completely dependent on Sophie. He had “saved” her, so in a way, she was his. At least in his eyes, she was his to have. And Nathan’s paranoia and possessiveness, and Sophie’s need to suffer is ultimately what dooms them.

The actual “Sophie’s Choice” scene, when I think about it, still horrifies me. It’s in the split second that she chooses and yells “Take my little girl! Take my baby!”, and you hear her daughter screaming and crying and you see Sophie’s face. That’s what horrifies me. That’s what brings tears to my eyes instantly.

Grade: A-

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