Friday, December 31, 2021

Sophie's Choice

In the almost 14 years I've been blogging, I've never done a post on Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning role in Sophie's Choice. It showed up during one of the free preview weekends, so I recorded it to get around to watching it when it showed up again. Sophie's Choice has an airing on Showtime2 tomorrow at 6:00 AM, and a few more over the next week; check your box guide.

Meryl Streep plays Sophie, although we don't see her first. That would be Stingo (Peter MacNicol), a stereotypical southern-born author who decides he's going to go north to the big city some time in the late 1940s and write the Great American Novel. So he takes a room in a boarding-house run by the immigrant Yetta. There are two other roomers, research biologist Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline), and slightly mysterious Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowska. Nathan and Sophie seem to be romantically involved, but it's a rather volatile relationship.

Seeing a new guy, Nathan and Sophie decide to befriend him, and Stingo gets invited into their little circle. Stingo sees a serial number tattooed on Sophie's forearm, and even then it was obvious that this meant Sophie had been in one of the Nazi concentration camps. Sophie then tells Stingo that she was the daughter of a prominent university professor in Krakow, and that she had gotten married and had two children. However, once the Nazis took over western Poland, the purges began, and all of Sophie's family was sent to various concentration camps despite their being Catholic. Dad, Sophie's husband, and Sophie's daughter all died in the camps; Sophie obviously survived but was separated from her son.

Or at least that's her story; Nathan seems to think that there's more than she's letting on. That wouldn't be surprising considering the hell that was life under Nazi occupation in general and in the camps in particular. But for Nathan, his belief may be just as much borne out of paranoia. Nathan, as the movie progresses, becomes increasingly manic and erratic to the point that I would have blown my stack, especially if he tried to steal my manuscript to read it without my permisson.

But worse is that Nathan is insanely jealous. Sophie has a secretarial job with a doctor whose wife's family is involved in the jewelry business, which enabled Sophie to get a good deal on a pocket watch to buy for Nathan as a gift. But Nathan was apparently following Sophie, and thinks that she's having a relationship with her boss. He very nearly gets violent, and both he and Sophie leave the boarding house for parts unknown. Fortunately Sophie returns, and tells Stingo more of the real story of her life. Stingo has been falling in love with Sophie all along and decides to take her back south, since Dad inherited a farm where Stingo and Sophie could live while he's writing that novel.

Meryl Streep gives a masterful performance in Sophie's Choice, but the movie is not without some fairly substantial problems. A lot of that has to do with the screenplay, which starts off very slowly. In fact, it's not until a good 80 minutes in that we start getting to the flashback scenes at Auschwitz and the movie really picks up. The titular choice turns out to be one small (but powerful) scene 10 minutes before the end, and the coda didn't really work for me. The screenplay also makes Nathan out to be a profoundly obnoxious character; even if it all makes more sense when his big reveal comes, he's still somebody I'd have wanted to be rid of fairly early in the movie if I were in Stingo's shoes.

Still, Sophie's Choice is a movie that absolutely should be seen for Meryl Streep's performance.

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