The Greatest films of all time: 74. Sophie’s Choice (1982) (USA)

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Adapted from a novel of the same name by William Styron in 1979, “Sophie’s Choice” written and directed for the screen by Alan J. Pakula is one of the rare films in the history of cinema that stays on mind after watching it even once. Styron who in 1985, three years after the release of the film, suffered from a serious episode of depression, leading him to write the memoir of his illness, “Darkness Visible” that became another of his masterpiece, perhaps had some masked such feelings when he wrote “Sophie’s Choice”, that is obviously a tale of suffering.


Pakula known for social and political type films such as “To kill a mocking bird” and “All the President men”, did not direct before or after this film any melodrama/tragic story. While thinking of the Swedish actress, Liv Ullman for the role of Sophie, it was Meryl Streep who threw herself at her feet to get the role. And she did well and performed the best role of her career life, where she had to lose weight to match Sophie specially at the concentration camp scenes. Another reflection of the casualties of war and political supremacy, and expansion at the cost of million lives, “Sophie’s Choice” is not just a tragic tale of humans, but a shameful one. The story is not only about the retelling of what Nazis did to the Jews in their exterminations, but how far the power hunger and hatred of humans could go to force a mother to make a choice of saving a child, but giving another away for extermination.

Sophie’s Choice: A Choice cannot live with

The story and the film opens in 1947, two years after the final end of the tragic and shameful second world war in Brooklyn, and is told by Stingo (Peter MacNicol), a young writer who rents an apartment in a house, where he will become the third party in the lives of Sophie (Meryl Streep) and Nathan (Kevin Kline) who live there as well. Sophie is a weak and fragile woman who mysteriously is attached to Nathan whose mental and emotional instability and insanity is evident even to the young and naïve looking Stingo. One moment in an intense love and affection to Sophie and the next moment suspicious of her infidelity, Nathan swings from a normal and high mood to total anger, and jealousy to the point of abusing his lover mentally, verbally and physically. Surprised by the pathological dependency of Sophie to Nathan, Stingo and the viewers are puzzled why Sophie still has remained in such abusive and roller coaster relationship. In fact the first part of the film is a depiction of such unhealthy pathological attachments or sick symbiotic relationship that exists in the real life around us and some viewers may relate to.

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It is only from the second part of the story of the film that we learn through Sophie’s revealing the secret of her past life to Stingo, the reason for her staying in such pathological relationship. Sophie a malnourished anemic Polish immigrant is found and helped on the floor of a library after being harassed by a librarian that there is no such American poet as Emily Dickinson that she was asking for her poetry book. Mesmerized by her pale angle-like beauty, Nathan takes Sophie to his place, have her rest, cooks, feeds her and gives her the book of Emily Dickinson. He reads the a famous poem of the book that repeats again in the final scene, revealing the secret behind such symbiotic depressive relationship, that the two lost souls only could fill in.


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The Greatest films of all time: 73. Sophie’s Choice (1982) (USA)