Monday, March 30, 2009

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice (Alan J. Pakula, 1982) (home) Sophie's Choice holds a prominent place in my memory, as the novel was always laying around the house when I was a child, and I often heard my mother express her admiration of the film. I finally sat down with the movie the other week, and was left in awe for days following - I believe that Sophie's Choice could be close to being a perfect film.

Sophie's Choice tells the stories of Stingo (a VERY young Peter McNichol), an ambitious southerner recently moved to New York to follow his dream of becoming a great author, and two eccentric housemates who befriend him: Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep), a polish immigrant and survivor of Auschwitz, and Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline), a flamboyant provocateur who slowly loses his sanity as the narrative unfolds.

The real core of the film, however, is Sophie's experiences under the Nazi occupation of Poland in WWII, as told in flashbacks that punctuate the modern drama. This slow and measured retelling of her past life adds depths to the wisp of a character that Sophie is in modern New York - indeed, the modern Sophie is almost numb, bringing nothing to the table but ethereal beauty and a channel for Nathan's eccentric fancies and brutal tempers.

It is in her recollections that we learn what stripped Sophie to this vapour of a person, leaving her less than half a spirit in need of someone else's passion, someone else's desire, someone else's joie de vivre to animate her. And these recollections lead ultimately to the single choice that made her what she is today - and that shocked me to silence and stillness.

Beauty to be Told
One would think that the story of a shell of a woman recounting her memories of the holocaust and living vicariously through a madman would be pretty depressing fare, but this is far from the case. Sophie's Choice bubbles with simple joys of the moment as Stingo, Sophie, and Nathan indulge their every imaginative whim on the wings of childlike spirits mixed with copious quantities of wine.

This childlike innocence imbues Sophie because it is all that her wartime experiences left her with, Nathan because of his madness, and Stingo because he is but a child, first venturing out into the world to test a dream that has yet to be seriously challenged. The innocence also innoculates the story, serving as antidote to the pain and suffering recounted in its backstory.

A compelling, emotionally mature story, characters that you want to be real, and Meryl Streep - beautiful beyond compare - are engaging and affecting. Viewing Sophie's Choice is an incredibly intimate experience that touches you somewhere deep inside and glows and grows inside you long after the credits have rolled.

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