Sophie's Choice (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Screenplay by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Based on||Sophie's Choice|
by William Styron
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Edited by||Evan Lottman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$30 million|
Sophie's Choice is a 1982 American drama film directed by Alan J. Pakula, who adapted William Styron's novel of the same name. Meryl Streep stars as Sophie, a Polish immigrant who shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with her tempestuous lover, Nathan (Kevin Kline in his feature film debut), and a young writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol).
Streep's performance was acclaimed, and she received the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography (Néstor Almendros), Best Costume Design (Albert Wolsky), Best Music (Marvin Hamlisch), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan J. Pakula).
In 1947, Stingo moves to Brooklyn to write a novel, and is befriended by Sophie Zawistowski, 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 is a paranoid schizophrenic, 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, but it is in the library, which his brother obtained for him, 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 son, Jan, to be sent to the children's camp, and her daughter, Eva, to be sent to her death.
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 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 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.
Sophie's Choice received positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a 77% rating based on 31 reviews, with an average score of 7 out of 10. 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." 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." 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." 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." 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." 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."
The film won the Academy Award for Best Actress (Streep), and was nominated for Best Cinematography (Almendros), Costume Design (Wolsky), Best Music (Hamlisch), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Pakula). 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."
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).
Awards and nominations
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- Best Actress – Meryl Streep (won)
- Best Cinematography – Néstor Almendros (nominated)
- Best Costume Design – Albert Wolsky (nominated)
- Best Original Score – Marvin Hamlisch (nominated)
- Best Screenplay: Adapted – Pakula (nominated)
- Best Actress: Drama – Streep (won)
- Best Film: Drama (nominated)
- New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture: Male – Kline (nominated)
- Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium – Pakula (nominated)
Streep also made a clean sweep in the Best Actress categories at all major critics groups: National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics and Boston Society of Film Critics
- "SOPHIE'S CHOICE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 11, 1983. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
- Box Office Information for Sophie's Choice. Archived March 26, 2014, at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- Box Office Information for Sophie's Choice. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 1, 2013
- Longworth 2013, p. 51.
- Skow, John (September 7, 1981). "What Makes Meryl Magic". Time. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
- Longworth 2013, p. 56.
- "Sophie's Choice". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
- "Sophie's Choice". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
- Ebert, Roger. "Sophie's Choice". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
- Siskel, Gene (December 10, 1982). "Because of Streep, 'Sophie's' survives". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1.
- "Sophie's Choice". Variety: 16. December 8, 1982.
- Maslin, Janet (December 10, 1982). "Screen: Styron's 'Sophie's Choice'". The New York Times: C12.
- Arnold, Gary (December 10, 1982). "'Sophie's' Passionate Power". The Washington Post: D1.
- 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: 75.
- Premiere Magazine: The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
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