Sophie's Choice (film)

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Sophie's Choice
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan J. Pakula
Screenplay byAlan J. Pakula
Based onSophie's Choice
1979 novel
by William Styron
Produced by
CinematographyNestor Almendros
Edited byEvan A. Lottman
Music byMarvin Hamlisch
ITC Entertainment
Keith Barish Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Associated Film Distribution
Release dates
  • December 8, 1982 (1982-12-08) (premiere)
  • December 10, 1982 (1982-12-10) (United States)[1]
Running time
151 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
  • English
  • Polish
  • German
Budget$9 million[3]
Box office$30 million[4]

Sophie's Choice is a 1982 American psychological drama film directed and written by Alan J. Pakula, adapted from William Styron's 1979 novel Sophie's Choice. The film stars Meryl Streep as Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowska, a Polish immigrant to America with a dark secret from her past who shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with her tempestuous lover Nathan (Kevin Kline in his first feature film), and young writer Stingo (Peter MacNicol). It also features Rita Karin, Stephen D. Newman and Josh Mostel.

Sophie's Choice premiered in Los Angeles on December 8, 1982, and was theatrically released on December 10 by Universal Pictures. It received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $30 million.

Streep's performance was highly praised. The film received five nominations at the 55th Academy Awards, for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score, with Streep winning the award for Best Actress.


In 1947, Stingo moves to Brooklyn to write a novel and is befriended by neighbors Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish immigrant, and her emotionally unstable lover, Nathan Landau.

Nathan is constantly jealous and, when he is in one of his violent mood swings, he convinces himself that Sophie is unfaithful, and he abuses and harasses her. A flashback shows how Nathan first met Sophie after her immigration to the U.S. when she collapsed from severe anemia.

Sophie tells Stingo before she came to the U.S., her husband and father were killed in a German work camp, and she was interned in Auschwitz. Stingo later learns from a college professor Sophie's father was a Nazi sympathizer. When Stingo confronts Sophie with this, she admits the truth.

Sophie explains that after her father (a university professor) and her husband (her father's assistant) were taken away by the Nazis, she had a war-time lover, Józef. He lived with his half-sister, Wanda, and was a leader in the Resistance. Wanda tried to convince Sophie to translate some stolen Gestapo documents, but Sophie declined, fearing she might endanger her two children Jan and Eva.

Two weeks later, Józef was murdered by the Gestapo and Sophie was arrested and sent to Auschwitz with the children. After arrival, Sophie was assigned as Rudolph Höss' secretary due to her language and office skills.

Nathan tells Sophie and Stingo he is doing groundbreaking research at Pfizer, but Nathan's physician brother tells Stingo that Nathan has paranoid schizophrenia and all of the schools Nathan claimed to attend were actually expensive "funny farms". Nathan is not a biologist as he claims. He does have a job at Pfizer, which his brother obtained for him, but it is in the library, and he only occasionally assists with research.

After Nathan believes Sophie has betrayed him again, he calls her and Stingo on the phone and fires a gun in a violent rage. Sophie and Stingo flee to a hotel, and he plans for a future for the two of them. She agrees to be with him but not to marry because she considers herself an unfit mother. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, she had been forced to choose which one of her children would be sent to the gas chamber and killed. If she failed to choose, both would be killed. Desperately, she chose to send Eva, her daughter, to the gas chamber, in order to save her son, Jan.

Sophie and Stingo have sex. Then while he is sleeping, she leaves a note, returning to Nathan. Sophie and Nathan die by suicide together by taking cyanide. Stingo recites the poem "Ample Make This Bed" from a book by Emily Dickinson, the American poet Sophie was fond of reading, that she left on a table.

Stingo moves to a small farm his father recently inherited in southern Virginia to finish writing his novel.



Styron wrote the novel with Ursula Andress in mind for the part of Sophie, and the Slovak actress Magdaléna Vášáryová was also considered.[5] Streep was very determined to get the role. After obtaining a bootlegged copy of the script, she went after Pakula, and threw herself on the ground, begging him to give her the part.[6] Pakula's first choice was Liv Ullmann, for her ability to project the foreignness that would add to her appeal in the eyes of an impressionable, romantic Southerner.

The film was mostly shot in New York City, with Sophie's flashback scenes shot afterwards in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Production for the film, at times, was more like a theatrical set than a film set. Pakula allowed the cast to rehearse for three weeks, and was open to improvisation from the actors, "spontaneous things", according to Streep.[7]


The film had its premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 8, 1982, and then opened on December 10 in nine theatres in New York City (Cinema 1 and 3), Los Angeles (Avco 2), San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Toronto.[1][8]


Critical reception[edit]

Sophie's Choice received positive reviews. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 76% rating based on 42 reviews, with an average score of 7.00/10. The consensus reads, "Sophie's Choice may be more sobering than stirring, but Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning performance holds this postwar period drama together."[9] On Metacritic, the film has a 68 out of 100 rating based on nine critics, signifying "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "a fine, absorbing, wonderfully acted, heartbreaking movie. It is about three people who are faced with a series of choices, some frivolous, some tragic. As they flounder in the bewilderment of being human in an age of madness, they become our friends, and we love them".[11]

Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, finding it "not as powerful or as involving" as the novel but praising Streep for a "striking performance".[12]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "Though it's far from a flawless movie, 'Sophie's Choice' is a unified and deeply affecting one. Thanks in large part to Miss Streep's bravura performance, it's a film that casts a powerful, uninterrupted spell."[13]

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "There is greatness in the extraordinary performances of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol, who endow the principal characters of 'Sophie's Choice' with appealing, ultimately heartbreaking individuality and romantic glamor."[14]

Not all reviews were positive. Todd McCarthy at Variety called it "a handsome, doggedly faithful and astoundingly tedious adaptation of William Styron's best-seller. Despite earnest intentions and top talent involved, lack of chemistry among the three leading players and over-elaborated screenplay make this a trying experience to sit through."[15]

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Although many of the book's characters have been cut away, and with them some of its torrent of words, the film feels claustrophobic, prolix and airless to the point of stupefaction ... Yet, whatever the film's overall problems, the role of Sophie, its beautiful, complex, worldly heroine, gives Meryl Streep the chance at bravura performance and she is, in a word, incandescent."[16]

The Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen wrote, "Pakula's literal adaptation of Styron's Sophie's Choice is an admirable, if reverential, movie that crams this triangle into a 2+12-hour character study enriched by Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, and nearly destroyed by Peter MacNicol."[10]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote that it "is, I think, an infuriatingly bad movie ... The whole plot is based on a connection that isn't there—the connection between Sophie and Nathan's relationship and what the Nazis did to the Jews. Eventually, we get to the Mystery—to Sophie's Choice—and discover that the incident is garish rather than illuminating, and too particular to demonstrate anything general".[17]

Streep's characterization was voted the third-greatest movie performance of all time by Premiere magazine.[18] The film was also ranked number one in Roger Ebert's Top Ten List for 1982 and was listed on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) at number 91.


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[19] Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Alan J. Pakula Nominated
Best Cinematography Néstor Almendros Nominated
Best Costume Design Albert Wolsky Nominated
Best Original Score Marvin Hamlisch Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[20] Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
British Academy Film Awards[21] Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Kevin Kline Nominated
Danish Film Awards Best Foreign Film Alan J. Pakula Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[22] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Meryl Streep Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Kevin Kline Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[23] Best Actress Meryl Streep Won[a]
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Language Film Alan J. Pakula Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[24] Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Mainichi Film Awards Best Foreign Language Film Alan J. Pakula Won
National Board of Review Awards[25] Top Ten Films 3rd Place
Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards[26] Best Actress Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[27] Best Actress Won
Best Cinematography Néstor Almendros Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign Film Meryl Streep Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[28] Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Alan J. Pakula Nominated

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Sophie's Choice at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "SOPHIE'S CHOICE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 11, 1983. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  3. ^ Box Office Information for Sophie's Choice. Archived March 26, 2014, at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  4. ^ "Box Office Information for Sophie's Choice". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  5. ^ Longworth 2013, p. 51.
  6. ^ Skow, John (September 7, 1981). "What Makes Meryl Magic". Time. Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
  7. ^ Longworth 2013, p. 56.
  8. ^ "Major Openings Bolster B.O.". Daily Variety. December 14, 1982. p. 1.
  9. ^ "Sophie's Choice". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 20, 2023.
  10. ^ a b "Sophie's Choice". Metacritic. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Sophie's Choice". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 27, 2018 – via
  12. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 10, 1982). "Because of Streep, 'Sophie's' survives". Chicago Tribune. p. 1.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 10, 1982). "Screen: Styron's 'Sophie's Choice'". The New York Times. p. C12.
  14. ^ Arnold, Gary (December 10, 1982). "'Sophie's' Passionate Power". The Washington Post. p. D1.
  15. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 8, 1982). "Film Reviews: Sophie's Choice". Variety. p. 16.
  16. ^ Benson, Sheila (December 10, 1982). "Streep Shines Through 'Sophie' Drawbacks". Los Angeles Times. p. 1 Part VI.
  17. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 27, 1982). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 75.
  18. ^ "Premiere Magazine: The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time". FilmSite. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  19. ^ "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Archived from the original on September 5, 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  20. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1980s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  21. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1984". BAFTA. 1984. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  22. ^ "Sophie's Choice – Golden Globes". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  23. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1980-89". Kansas City Film Critics Circle. December 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  24. ^ "The 8th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  25. ^ "1982 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  26. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. December 19, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  27. ^ "1982 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  28. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.

External links[edit]