Sophie’s Choice (1982) – Alan J. Pakula

The recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film for my screening of Schindler’s List are all powerful and exceptional films, and the first one featured some truly stunning performances.

Adapted from the novel by William Styron, Pakula adapted and directed this moving and stunning film that sees Meryl Streep, in an Oscar winning performance for the titular Sophie.

A Polish immigrant and a survivor of the Nazi’s concentration camps, Sophie resides in a boarding house in Brooklyn with her volatile and tempestuous lover, Nathan (Kevin Kline in a stunning screen debut).

Arriving from the south, a young writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol) has come to work on his first novel, and is drawn into the couple’s sphere.

Nathan is driven by an obsession with the Nazis, to learn what happened to Sophie, the truth of her family history, and lay blame on her for surviving, when so many other’s didn’t. It’s a passionate, and troubling relationship that swings passionately from love to anger.

Stingo is drawn to Sophie, and she to him, and slowly, she reveals the truth of what happened to her, the horrible things she endured, the choice she had to make, and the truth about her family.

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An incredibly moving, and powerful film that comes to an inescapable climax, as revelations are made, and truths and feelings are outed.

Streep, with no surprise, completely embodies her character, bringing Sophie to life as a fragile, broken woman who carries scars physical and mental over the trials the camps put her through, and revisits with Stingo and Nathan. She is Sophie, it’s a stunning transformation, knowing her body of work over the years, seeing her here is amazing. She gives the viewer a masterclass in acting.

Clocking in at two and a half hours, the film is a gently paced character drama that examines the darkness of war, its lasting effects, and the way they haunt us.

The trio of actors are fantastically paired together and it’s something to see them together. Watching the film, I was put in mind of two things, even as the heartbreaking story wove its effect.

The first is, this would be a powerful stage play, and the second was that it was exceptional to see both Klilne and MacNicol in dramatic roles, as they have become so associated with comic turns.

Streep’s performance is essential to the film, if you didn’t believe her in the role for one moment, the whole thing would have collapsed like a house of cards. Instead the film stands tall and proud, and Streep proves she is one of the most talented actors to grace the screen.

Given the nature of the film, this one may not be for all viewers, much like Schindler’s List, but those who venture into it will be rewarded with a beautiful, heart-wrenching film.

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