Sophie's Choice (film)
|Directed by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Screenplay by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Based on||Sophie's Choice|
by William Styron
|Edited by||Evan A. Lottman|
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
Keith Barish Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Associated Film Distribution
|Box office||$30 million|
Sophie's Choice is a 1982 American psychological drama directed and written by Alan J. Pakula, adapted from William Styron's 1979 novel of the same name. The film stars Meryl Streep as Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant with a dark secret from her past who shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with her tempestuous lover Nathan and young writer Stingo. It also stars Kevin Kline (in his feature film debut), Peter MacNicol, 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 titular performance was almost unanimously praised. The film received five nominations at the 55th Academy Awards; Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score, with Streep winning Best Actress.
In 1947, Stingo moves to Brooklyn to write a novel, and is befriended by 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 to him, and he abuses and harasses her. A flashback shows how Nathan first met Sophie after her immigration to the U.S. when she nearly died due to anemia.
Sophie tells Stingo that before she came to the U.S., her husband and father were killed in a German work camp, and that she was interned in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Stingo later learns from a college professor that Sophie's father was a Nazi sympathizer. When Stingo confronts Sophie with this, she admits the truth and tells him about her war-time lover, Józef, who 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 children. Two weeks later, Józef was murdered by the Gestapo, and Sophie was arrested and sent to Auschwitz with her children.
Nathan tells Sophie and Stingo that he is doing groundbreaking research at a pharmaceutical company, but Nathan's physician brother tells Stingo that Nathan has paranoid schizophrenia, and that all of the schools that Nathan attended were "expensive funny farms". Nathan is not a biologist as he claims. He does have a job at a pharmaceutical firm, 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 Sophie and Stingo on the telephone and fires a gun in a violent rage. Sophie and Stingo flee to a hotel. She reveals to him that, upon arrival at Auschwitz, she was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would proceed to the labor camp. To avoid having both children killed, she chose her older son, Jan, to be sent to the children's camp, and her baby daughter, Eva, to be murdered in the gas chamber.
Sophie and Stingo have sex, but while Stingo is sleeping, Sophie returns to Nathan. Sophie and Nathan commit suicide by taking cyanide. Stingo recites the poem "Ample Make This Bed" by Emily Dickinson — the American poet that Sophie was fond of reading.
Stingo moves to a small farm that his father recently inherited in southern Virginia to finish writing his novel.
- Meryl Streep as Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski
- Kevin Kline as Nathan Landau
- Peter MacNicol as Stingo
- Rita Karin as Yetta Zimmerman
- Stephen D. Newman as Larry Landau
- Josh Mostel as Morris Fink
- Marcell Rosenblatt as Astrid Weinstein
- Moishe Rosenfeld as Moishe Rosenblum
- Robin Bartlett as Lillian Grossman
- Eugene Lipinski as Polish professor
- John Rothman as Librarian
- Neddim Prohic as Józef
- Katharina Thalbach as Wanda
- Jennifer Lawn as Eva Zawistowski
- Adrian Kalitka as Jan Zawistowski
- Joseph Leon as Dr. Blackstock
- David Wohl as English teacher
- Nina Polan as Woman in English Class
- Vida Jerman as female SS guard
- Josef Sommer as the Narrator (Stingo as an adult)
- Karlheinz Hackl as SS doctor
- Günther Maria Halmer (de) as Rudolf Höss
Styron wrote the novel with Ursula Andress in mind for the part of Sophie, and Slovak actress Magdaléna Vášáryová was also considered. 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. 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. Streep had to lose a lot of weight to film the scenes in Yugoslavia at the concentration camp.
The film had its premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 8, 1982 and then opened December 10 in nine theatres in New York City (Cinema 1 and 3); Los Angeles (Avco 2); San Francisco; San Jose, California; Chicago; Dallas; Washington D.C.; and Toronto.
Sophie's Choice received positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 78% rating based on 41 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." On Metacritic, the film has a 68 out of 100 rating based on 9 critics, signifying "generally favorable reviews"."
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."
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."
Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated, "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."
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."
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."
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+1⁄2-hour character study enriched by Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, and nearly destroyed by Peter MacNicol."
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."
Streep's characterization was voted the third-greatest movie performance of all time by Premiere Magazine. 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.
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- Siskel, Gene (December 10, 1982). "Because of Streep, 'Sophie's' survives". Chicago Tribune. p. 1.
- Maslin, Janet (December 10, 1982). "Screen: Styron's 'Sophie's Choice'". The New York Times. p. C12.
- Arnold, Gary (December 10, 1982). "'Sophie's' Passionate Power". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Washington Post Company. p. D1.
- McCarthy, Todd (December 8, 1982). "Film Reviews: Sophie's Choice". Variety. p. 16.
- Benson, Sheila (December 10, 1982). "Streep Shines Through 'Sophie' Drawbacks". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
- Kael, Pauline (December 27, 1982). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York City. p. 75.
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- "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1984". BAFTA. 1984. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
- "Sophie's Choice – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
- "KCFCC Award Winners – 1980-89". kcfcc.org. December 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
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