|SOPHIE'S CHOICE (1982)|
Alan J. Pakula
|Time: 157 mins.|
Won Academy Award for Best Actress (Streep). Nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.
After watching this film, there is no doubt in my mind that Meryl Streep is the best actress to ever grace the movie screen. An emotionally brutal story made utterly compelling by her subtle and heartbreaking performance. She disappears completely into Sophie, a concentration camp survivor trying to find a little happiness in her new life in America. What we discover as her story unfurls is that she may not be worthy of it. Kline proves his movie star potential in his first feature film role as Sophie's loving, yet schizophrenic husband. These two broken individuals desperately love one another, yet find it hard to live together. Their fragile existence is disrupted by a new figure, who comes to love them both, yet is almost destroyed by their friendship. Peter McNichol plays the innocent interloper who finds himself in way over his head.
The story starts simply enough. Stingo, a young writer, moves into the same boarding house as Sophie, a Czech immigrant, and her Jewish husband Nathan. The trio quickly becomes inseparable, as Nathan and Sophie entrance the naive young man with their sophisticated and entertaining ways. What he doesn't realize is the dark secrets and overriding obsessions that are lurking underneath the surface of their supposedly happy marriage. After witnessing a few of Nathan's cruel and seemingly unjustified outbursts, he begins to fall even more deeply in love with the vulnerable Sophie. To make him understand why Nathan treats her the way he does, she tells him the story of how she survived the Nazis. It's an extraordinary and entrancing story that will break your heart, but also shows a dark side to Sophie. She's stronger than she appears. Though not her fault, she can never forgive herself for the devastating choices she had to make to save her life. She loves a brutal man because she believes it is all she deserves and will ultimately bring about her salvation.
This is not an easy film to watch, mainly because Streep makes you feel her pain without ever uttering a word about it. She speaks in broken English with an accent most actors only dream of attaining. If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn English was not her first language. An accent can make or break a performance and this one pushes her right over the top of genius. She looked and acted so differently then I had ever seen her before, I almost couldn't believe it was her. In the hands of a lesser actress, SOPHIE'S would have been a hokey melodrama. No other actress had a chance in hell of beating her for the Oscar that year. Much like she does with Francesca in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, she takes a complicated woman, who makes morally dubious decisions, and creates a likable heroine you just want to see find happiness. She doesn't do it alone. Her brilliance helps her two neophyte co-stars reach the heights of their talent. This is one of Kline's most brilliant performances. You want to hate him, but he's just as much a victim of circumstances as Sophie. All I can say is wow.
For most actors, this would have been the role of a lifetime. For Streep it's merely another day at the office. SOPHIE'S CHOICE is a touching, disturbing, and at times uncomfortable film to watch. It's a three-hankie movie well worth the time. Rent it on a rainy day. Believe me, it'll make you feel a whole lot better about your life when it's over.