Sophie's Choice (1982) Poster

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Christmas with Sophie 2017
artoffilmorg26 December 2017
I don't know why I didn't want to see Sophie's Choice, not for years. I knew about Meryl Streep's performance, Alan J Pakula. Kevin Kline and I also knew that I had to see it eventually. Well, Christmas 2017 brought the shattering story into my life and now forever in my subconscious. Extraordinary is the first word that comes to mind. Meryl Streep's performance is out of this world. Every detail in her creation is a sort of link to her heart and therefore to mine. "Emil Dickens?" Her eyes, asking the question to the awful librarian will stay with me forever. Meryl Streep as Sophie asked that question 35 years ago. Amazing! What a devastating treat. It will make me go back to see all of her films., specially "A Cry In The Dark", "Plenty", "The Bridges Of Madison County" "Julia and Julia" even "Death Becomes Her" and "The Devil Wears Prada" Thank you Meryl Streep, thank you very much.
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The definitive Meryl Streep
MyDarkStar2 March 2002
Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers the Greatest Performance By An Actress EVER - period.

The performance is totally naked, where you can almost feel her sorrow come right out of the screen. For all of the heart wrenching scenes in this movie, you never once feel as though Streep is going over-the-top. That says alot for someone who spends just about half of the time in her scenes with a tear in her eye. Everything about her performance just seems so effortless and natural. This especially shows when she is speaking German flawlessly, or English with a very convincing Polish accent.

The fact that Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol are not completely lost in this movie says alot for their performances. Kline himself delivers a great performance of a man suffering from delusions and bi-polar syndrome. It is one of his greatest performances as well. Peter MacNicol plays the role of a character who pales in comparison to the other characters. MacNicol has the somewhat undesirable task of having to play the character who carries the least amount of baggage. He therefore might be overlooked, when viewing at the movie as a whole. However, MacNicol does a great job with the character, not trying to make more out of it than it is supposed to be. His role is very important to this movie.

But the real story here is Streep. Her performance would be a stand out against any other performance in history. I honestly believe that. Streep just digs down deep here - delivering lines that just put a chill down your spine.
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Meryl Streep raises the bar
marissas758 July 2006
After enjoying Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in the recent ensemble comedy "A Prairie Home Companion," it was great to see their dramatic performances in "Sophie's Choice," the movie that made them famous. Here, they play Sophie and Nathan, a volatile young couple living in a Brooklyn boardinghouse in the summer of 1947. Their story, and eventually the story of the Polish Sophie's time in a concentration camp during World War II, is presented through the eyes of Stingo (Peter MacNichol), their young Southern neighbor.

Though other characters appear, especially during the flashbacks, "Sophie's Choice" is largely a three-person drama that relies on subtle interactions. Meryl Streep can always be counted on to give a nuanced performance, but here, especially, she raises the bar. Speaking three languages (including a very realistic portrayal of how foreigners can hesitate and hunt for words when speaking English), going from a haggard Auschwitz inmate to a pretty "blooming rose," consumed by guilt even during the madcap or romantic moments she shares with Nathan, she gives a brilliant performance of a very complex character. Her big scenes with Nazi officers are of course powerful, but I was equally struck by smaller moments: the heartbreaking little flashes of emotion that reveal Sophie's postwar wounds, or the extraordinary conversation she has with a Nazi's daughter.

Kline throws himself into the role of the "fatally glamorous" Nathan and also displays impressive range: he goes from charming to menacing. MacNichol is not up to these (admittedly high) standards. He can play the wide-eyed innocent, but he always seems somewhat thick-headed and lacking in passion. The movie would be more effective if Stingo seemed more truly changed by his experiences with Sophie and Nathan.

Despite Stingo's weakness as a character, I liked the unusual structure that reveals Sophie's story gradually, in flashbacks that draw closer and closer to the ultimate horror. The movie is nicely shot and some of the Brooklyn scenes look as though they actually could have come from a 1940s movie. But no director from the 1940s would have confronted the brutalities of the Holocaust so directly, and few actresses from any era could have given a performance like Streep's.
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Probably the best Oscar-winning performance ever.
Johnnee3 November 1998
If the Oscars were to take every Best Actress winner ever -- from Janet Gaynor to Helen Hunt -- Meryl Streep would definitely have a good shot at winning against them. She gives a spellbinding, totally believable performance as Sophie, a timid Polish woman who befriends Stingo (Peter MacNicol), while she tells him of her tortured past in a concentration camp. As always, she does her foreign accent without fault, and puts her all in her performance, better than she's ever done. The movie itself is very good, too -- it may drag at times (at 2 1/2 hours), but definitely worth a look.
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Best Performance Ever
dakridge10 February 2005
Meryl Streep's performance as Sophie is simply the finest performance ever captured on film. Period. The subtlety and depth with which she reveals Sophie's wounds are simply spellbinding. She is at once radiantly beautiful, yet deeply wounded. She is charming, yet vulnerable. She is someone you want to love, yet someone whose pain keeps you at a distance.

This film takes the viewer on an intense emotional journey. Anyone, but especially anyone who is a parent, would have to be an emotional rock to not be absolutely haunted by this story. As much as I have studied and pondered the Holocaust, this film has connected me to those events more emotionally than I have ever been before.

This film, and Ms. Streep's performance, are a gift to humanity.
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The finest performance by an actress in the history of film.
Jen_UK28 December 2001
'Sophie's Choice' should be compulsory viewing for any member of the voting panel who decide Academy Award winners. Quite simply, Meryl Streep's performance is THE benchmark for that 'Best Actress' category. I've seen a LOT of films, but not one performance has ever (and will ever) match her's. The manner in which she embodies Sophie goes beyond explanation. It is too accomplished and moving for words. It is almost offensive to think that Julia Roberts was awarded the same statue for ‘Erin Brockovich'!

Aside from the breathtaking central performance from the marvellous Ms Streep, there are so many other reasons to see this film. Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol are excellent, the cinematography is beautiful (particularly the shots of Brooklyn Bridge) the score is haunting ... I could go on.

Although certain critics have berated 'Sophie's Choice' as a mere platform for Meryl Streep as an actress, I urge you to overlook this view. The film succeeds admirably in bringing to horrific life an event in history which we should all be made aware of. It is undeniable that the phenomenal performance of MS leaves you spellbound, but NOT at the expense of being horrified and affected by what you have seen. All I can say to sum up is: just see it. An intelligent and profoundly moving film which will (I promise you) live on in your memory long after the closing credits.
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jenjen212 November 2003
Wow! I am still in absolute shock from this film. Meryl Streep delivers a magnificent performance, with a flawless Polish accent. Kevin Kline and Peter Macnichol are terrific and together the three of them make a highly enjoyable film. The 'choice' Sophie has to make is shattering, a beautifully acted and unforgettable scene. Meryl Streep won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the nazi camp survivor, this was richly deserved. The film was incredible with a great score and many moving emotional scenes. The emotions of the characthers, especially Sophie, are incredibly beliveable and bought to life. All 3 of the main performances are haunting and memorable. A must see.

Highly reccomended. 10/10
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22 years later.....still the BEST acting ever
Niteout234 January 2004
This is still one of my favorite movies of all time ....and absolutely the best acting by an actress in all the years since then. Streep is magnificent and flawless. The "choice" scene was so horrifying to me (a mother of a young son and daughter at the time) that it took me several years before I could watch the movie without skipping past that part. It is such a small scene, yet its impact was so haunting and so horrifying - I can't think of any other scene in a movie that has affected me like that. Kline was terrific as well, and the musical score is beautiful and memorable. All in all, a wonderful film, and a perfect 10 from me. What a gifted actress!
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..only one of the commentaries found its true star...
fimimix1 May 2006
...all of the characters in this astounding book/movie were as good or as unimportant as viewers/readers found them to be, simply because William Styron developed them that way: Stingo WAS an unexperienced nerd, having lived an idyllic life in the South with nothing happening in his life, yet aspired to write the Great American Novel; how perfect for a virginous male to so fortunate to live with people who educate him what a horrendous journey life can be. McNichols was perfect for this role, because he was the opposite of Sophie. Nathan was mad and KNEW he was mad, longing with all his soul to be otherwise; a little madness drives people to do astounding things. Kline was perfect; what a shame he has never found another role as good. Sophie was the haunted lady whose life made her that way; Styron's development of her character is masterful. I read an interview in which he was asked how he felt his novel was presented in the film. His reply, "I took the money and ran." He could foresee there would be controversy over his work.

Some viewers, especially the younger ones, cannot appreciate how actresses have developed over the life-time of movie-making. They should watch some of the "silent" films to learn that mime was the only way to express an emotion. Mellodrama, intentionally so - yet, look at the entire work of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as examples of contrived performances. They were, at last, able to confront one another in "Baby Jane" - attempting to "out-drama" one another made it the wonderful film it is.

There is simply no other actress, that we know of, who is more talented a performer than Streep. Unlike Davis and Crawford, she is not concerned about her "star-power". She becomes whatever character she is playing, no matter if we like them or not. SO WHAT if "Sophie's Choice" was a vehicle to demonstrate her power? Please write another !! William Styron, stand forth ! Because of her absorption into her characters and the many nuances she developed in "Choice", take a look at "The Deer Hunter" to see how powerfully she played an un-extraordinarily plain woman perfectly. Under-playing a character, to make you believe people are actually like that, is the mark of a great actress.

I ardently pray there will be another role for Ms. Streep - even in her older years - that will allow us to become totally engrossed, to get outside of our own lives, to become completely destroyed, delirious, shattered just for a couple of hours, to realize there is still such talent in the world - THAT WE CAN AFFORD TO WATCH, at least.....thank heavens for this magical film.....
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A career defining role!!!
cmartin-3314 December 2006
Arguably Meryl Streep's most compelling performance...and lord knows the woman has turned in a few during her career! I found myself delighted, beguiled, enchanted, crushed and ultimately reduced to a drained and empty shell by the film's end; it took several days thereafter to fully recover. Her vulnerability and honesty are as inescapable as her demons. And you cannot help but be drawn into such a real sense of both conflict & compassion, duty and despair...this film completely melted my face off while cementing an admiration and awe I rarely experience from an actor's performance. All due respect to both Kline & MacNichol for their fine portrayals, but really the movie begins and ends with Streep's haunting, brilliant and enormously human turn as Sophie! This is a "must see" film albeit a gut wrenching experience!!! Totally amazing!!!
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The performance of a lifetime
citizen81325 November 2004
Although achingly literary at times, moments of true emotional power are rendered by fluid storytelling, Nestor Almendros's haunting cinematography, Marvin Hamlisch's quietly effecting score, a touching performance by Peter MacNichol, and a seminal performance by Meryl Streep; one that Kim Stanley (the celebrated actress/teacher and Oscar nominated mother to Jessica Lange in 'Frances' of the same year) proclaimed, "the titanic portrayal of her generation."

No matter what your initial feelings about this film, I encourage you to go back and take in Streep's dark dance of loss, madness and, finally, sorrowful redemption.
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Shattering, and still soaring
Atli Hafsteinsson17 July 2013
Sophie's Choice is one of those films I always meant to watch, and finally got the chance. It is best to go into it with as little idea as to what it's about as possible, as it's a slow film with a lot of layers that get peeled off one by one. A young would-be-author from the South moves to Brooklyn and befriends his neighbors, the couple Nathan and Sophie. All three hit it off, but Nathan's bipolar tendencies do puncture their friendship at times. Sophie, however, is a calm soul as kind as she is tortured by her past in Auschwitz. As the author, Stingo, gets to know them better, he is also taken deeper and deeper into Sophie's past, where a hidden pain resides.

Sophie's Choice brilliantly captures two polar opposite worlds. The colourful and tranquil Brooklyn is contrasted strikingly by a late 1930s Poland occupied by Nazis, where the colour drains so much out of the film that any further and it would be black-and-white. The present in Brooklyn is a good haven to have and catch our breath between glimpses into Sophie's horrible past.

At the end of the day, in spite of the emotionally shattering story, Sophie's Choice is a story about hope and redemption. The performances certainly helped. Peter MacNicol and Kevin Kline are both wonderful as polar opposite personalities, united by a common love for literature.

But Meryl Streep is utterly mesmerizing as Sophie. It's not for no reason that this was one of those Oscar-nominated performances of hers that gave that extra edge and got her the statue. All of Sophie's mannerisms, her accent, her speaking German and Polish, her searching for words in English to express what she wants to say, her restrained kindness, her pain; none of it overdone. The director even trusted Streep enough to take long shots with her as she gets into deep characterization. This is quite simply one of the finest female performances in cinema.

I did fear, throughout the film, what exactly Sophie's choice was, and I was right, for it is a scene that crushes your heart. But the film comes together in the end and ends in an emotionally satisfying way in spite of everything. Steel yourself for an emotional journey and give Sophie's Choice a view, it's a film as uplifting as it is depressing, and unmissable for cinema buffs.
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Meryl Streep's Greatest Performance
James Hitchcock30 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"Sophie's Choice" is set in Brooklyn in the late 1940s, soon after the end of the Second World War. The three main characters are Stingo, a young writer from the Deep South, and Nathan and Sophie, the couple who befriend him. Nathan is a Jewish New Yorker who tells Stingo that he is a research biologist for a pharmaceutical company. Sophie is a Polish gentile immigrant who has survived imprisonment in Auschwitz by the Nazis. At first the atmosphere is relatively light, one of love, friendship and fun. This part of the film is shot in brilliant colour in a summer setting, and the affluent suburbs of New York seem a safe haven from the horrors of the war that has recently ravaged Europe.

Gradually, however, the tone darkens as we become aware that the gentle, beautiful Sophie is hiding a dark secret. We learn that her beloved father was not, as she claimed, an anti-Nazi intellectual, but was actually a rabid anti-Semite and admirer of Nazism whom the Germans murdered by mistake. Nathan originally seems eccentric but vivacious and likable, but as the film progresses he begins to show signs of disturbance, insulting Stingo whom he has previously treated as a friend, and unreasonably suspecting Sophie of being unfaithful to him. We, and Stingo, learn from Nathan's brother that he is in fact suffering from mental illness and that he is only employed by the pharmaceutical company in a lowly clerical position, not as a research scientist, although Sophie remains unaware of these facts.

In 1982 there had been many films made about the Second World War, but relatively few about the Holocaust, which seemed to daunt film-makers by its very enormity. Alan Pakula was therefore breaking new ground, particularly as he approached the subject from a controversial angle, tackling the question of war guilt- not the legal and moral guilt of those who perpetrated the Holocaust, but the psychological guilt of those who survived it. After liberation from the camps, many survivors such as Sophie experienced feelings of guilt that they had survived whereas many others, including friends and family members, had died. Sophie's feelings of guilt are exacerbated by her knowledge of her father's odious political views and by the fact that she had attempted to exploit her father's reputation and her fluent knowledge of German in an attempt to ingratiate herself with Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, whose secretary she became. Sophie's most agonising secret, however, is the "choice" of the film's title- the fact that she was forced by a brutal Nazi officer to choose which of her two children should live and which should die. Her love for the Jewish Nathan, whom she clings to despite his mistreatment of her, may be a way of atoning for her guilt feelings.

There are a few weaknesses in the film. During the first half the action can be too slow, and Stingo, as played by Peter MacNichol, seems a fairly weak figure. The scene of his sexual encounter with a girl who talks like a whore and acts like a prude would be funny in a comedy but is out of place in a serious film like this one. Despite these weaknesses, however, this is a film which more than justifies its ambitious theme. Meryl Streep is one of the greatest film actresses of all time, and certainly the best of the early eighties, and this is possibly her best-ever role. She demonstrated her famed linguistic talents, playing the Auschwitz scenes in excellent German and the English-language scenes with a Polish accent, but (contrary to what some hostile critics have sometimes claimed) there is more to her acting than a collection of foreign accents. One criticism that is sometimes made of Streep is that she is too intellectual an actress, self-consciously thinking her way into a part rather than trying to live it emotionally, but in this case at least this seems to be the right approach. It is difficult to see how the "Method" could cope with a role like Sophie, whose emotional experiences are so far beyond those of any actress likely to be called upon to play her. Certainly, I found this one of the most affecting performances I have seen. Never can the "Best Actress" Oscar have been better deserved. Kevin Kline was unlucky not to have been nominated for his part as the tormented and tragic Nathan. This is a dark, sombre film but one of high quality and great emotional power. 8/10
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An example of an excellent actress
Thomas19 October 2006
"Sophie's Choice" is a vivid portrayal of the human side of World War II and the holocaust. The setting is post-World War II, late 1940s Brooklyn, New York.

Meryl Streep is Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant. This is the movie that caused all of us to fall in love with Ms. Streep. Her performance is impeccable. In some scenes, she is flawlessly dressed, and absolutely beautiful, while in others she is completely dehumanized at the hands of the Nazi Germans, and yet Meryl Streep is completely convincing throughout the film. Her accent sounds genuine, and you feel Sophie's pain throughout the movie.

Kevin Kline is Nathan Landau, Sophie's mentally unstable boyfriend who meets her in Brooklyn. Kline's performance as the 'Jekyl and Hyde' Nathan is ominously realistic. Peter MacNicol is Stingo, a naive young writer from the South who moves into the same building as Sophie and Nathan. Stingo soon learns the secrets Sophie and Nathan have been keeping from each other.

This movie will keep you on the edge of your seat. The acting is brilliant, especially by Meryl Streep. This movie contains one of the most haunting scenes ever depicted in film history.

"Sophie's Choice" is an excellent film that portrays the suffering many endured during World War II.
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Sophie's Choice~Classic
dcgayinc29 December 2005
Rarely would I give a film a rating of 10 as that is perfection. Sophie's Choice is and always will be a classic film, a film that will be watched decades from now by other generations. Meryl Streep is simply one of the greatest actresses of our time and has truly made her mark. Sophie's Choice is not another Holocaust film. In fact most of the movie doesn't refer to the holocaust but of Sophie, the character so brilliantly created by William Styron in his novel 'Sophie's Choice' and beautifully adapted into a screen play. We see Sophie through the eyes of Stingo, the young writer from the south who becomes infatuated with Sophie. Little by little Sophie's story is revealed. The title 'Sophie's Choice' refers to a particular choice made in the film by Sophie but in my eyes there are many choices that Sophie makes through out this film. Meryl Streep completely transformed herself into this character which she won the Acadamy Award for Best Actress and rightfully so. I don't think anybody else could have created Sophie as Streep did. Sophie lives for Nathan, the man she claims saved her life 6 months after coming to America. Sophie and Nathan's relationship is a roller coaster of highs and extreme lows. Stingo, their best friend is constantly on the outside looking in at the complex characters of Sophie and Nathan. This is a beautiful film as Sophie is a beautiful character you can't help but love and feel her pain.
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Powerful beyond belief.
Madfilm1 July 1999
I gave this movie a very solid 10. Streep's performance is perfection at its best, there is not one flaw made by her in the entire movie. Bringing together scenes of both romance, passion for life, misery, and joy, she allows this movie to get a hold of you and not let go until the end, as all great films should. Other performances are equally great, but it is Streep as the 'very believable' Sophie that will take you by storm. Without a doubt one of the best films of the 80's. Watch it!
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Truly Great and Important Film
binaryg11 March 2005
Having a new, big screen, home theater system is giving me the chance to watch some of my old favorite films and see how they have held up over time. I was recently surprised at how strange the story in Manhattan seemed 26 years later. I wondered how Sophie's Choice might have aged. I remember being so moved by Meryl Streep's performance and by the story. I still feel the same urgency to be reminded of the Holocaust. Especially with the horrors and torture still so prevalent we still need to recall what happened not so long ago. Sophie's Choice is still as great as I remember it. Streep's performance is the greatest I have ever seen. The DVD comes with a "Making of…" documentary which is so enlightening. This was an important project for everyone involved, from the author, the screenwriter, the director, the cinematographer, to the actors all cared about what they were doing in this film.
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Best Acting by a Female EVER
jjh651910 March 2000
Meryl Streep has received a number of accolades and awards for her acting over the years, possibly the best being that many of the younger actresses have publicly proclaimed Meryl as their role model. But you need not see any other movie than Sophie's Choice to see why she has been so universally acclaimed. This is no doubt the best single featured acting by a female in any single movie, similar to Robert DeNiro's in Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. Meryl's Sophie is a person who is naive, jaded, innocent, guilt stricken, soft and gentle, hard as nails, loving and giving, and both practical and poetic to a fault. She is a classic tragic figure, a lesson in how to deal with the horrors of life and how not to deal with how those horrors haunt you. She is funny, soft and sweet, and you want to put your arms around her. Then you realize that underneath that childlike woman is a woman who has given up on childhood. She is a study in contradictions, speaking English, German, and Polish to survive at all costs. Then along comes Nathan, expertly portrayed by Kevin Kline (possibly one of his most challenging and multi-layered roles), and her life takes another turn. But we see all this through the wondering, innocent eyes of Stingo, and the terror, love, laughs, friendship and alienation he experiences, we experience. This is primarily due to a fantastic portrayal of Sophie by Meryl. And yes, the key scene -- The Choice of Choices -- is possibly the most painful scene ever on film, and how Meryl interprets Sophie during this scene is, by itself, worth an award! I love this movie. Someone once saw it for the first time, and commented, "I didn't think I would like it, especially because it was such a downer at times. But it was so good!" Excellent summary.
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Pure cinematic intoxication!
sabahataijaz11 May 2005
Director Alan J. Pakula's film, a departure from his conspiracy and suspense dramas, is an adaptation of William Styron's best-selling novel of the same name. The story itself is based on his experiences as a southerner living in Brooklyn in 1947.

Pakula essentially preserves the structure of Styron's novel as it begins with the arrival of Stingo, an aspiring young writer, in post - WWII Brooklyn. After settling into a boarding house, he meets a unique couple that offers him alternating support and heartbreak.

He befriends the Jewish biologist, Nathan (Kevin Kline), and his girlfriend, Sophie Zawistowska (Meryl Streep), a Polish refugee and Auschwitz survivor. But their relationship is clouded by Nathan's violent behaviour, his uncontrollable jealousy, and Sophie's unexpressed but troubling memories of war. Her stories about her life during the war begin to unravel, exposing her as a liar and adding a tone of mystery to the relationship between Nathan, Stingo, and herself.

The film culminates in a flashback, reflecting the horrors of the war and the true cause of Sophie's insufferable pain and the bitter choice she had to make…

Streep deservedly won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress, bringing on the tears, playing both a naive girl and a worldly woman, transforming herself into a Holocaust victim and survivor. Speaking flawlessly in a Polish accent and acceptable German, she basically became Sophie Zawistowska.

And while Streep is undoubtedly the star, both Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol deserve credit for making 'Sophie's Choice' work as well as it does.

While overall this is Stingo's coming of age story, at its central core we get drawn into Sophie's saga. Pakula uses an Emily Dickinson poem to frame her story:

Ample make this bed.Make this bed with awe; In it wait till judgment break excellent and fair. Be its mattress straight, be its pillow round; Let no sunrise' yellow noise interrupt this ground.

The reference to the bed is the key to understanding Sophie's persona. She relies on Nathan's physical love, even as he abuses her, to cope with her Auschwitz ghosts.

Nestor Almendros' delicately lit cinematography, with its complex levels of saturation and subtle impositions of shadow, has often been meticulously replicated. The flesh tones are perfect, the image is solid and the colours, when in full bloom, are exquisitely formed. Equally effective is the use of music created by Marvin Hamlisch. Two themes are effectively intertwined throughout the story – both melancholic.

Though the film deals with the Holocaust, it doesn't graphically show Nazi horrors, but rather refers to them abstractly, making it more effective. 'Sophie's Choice' provides the emotional core of the horror and shows what devastating experiences the survivors must deal with. For Pakula, the film was an artistic highpoint and his most deeply felt work. Undoubtedly, 'Sophie's Choice' remains his most powerful, highly distinctive drama.
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The casting person made an excellent choice!
1/2 pint12 October 1999
I agree with the previous commenter--an extremely powerful film. But I would like to add that I think this was Kevin Kline's best role in any film he has made. I especially love the part in the beginning when Sophie and Nathan are arguing on the stairwell and he finds Stingo eavesdropping. His switch to a southern drawl, the stinging quality of his words, amazed me. I've watched this movie so often I'm about to wear it out. Also the music is very well done. I STILL cry when I watch it!
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Quite Simply the Most Superlative Performance in the History of Cinema
Gavin Amir Versi18 December 2001
Director Alan Pakula must have been falling over himself with delight at the presence of his three main actors. Each give impressive performances, but it is Streep's that takes the breath away. So much has been written already about her flawless depiction of Sophie, who has to be the most heartbreaking character ever seen on film; I can only add my support to the view that Streep here gives the best performance ever seen by an actor.

Additionally, I agree that the Academy should look at this performance as the watermark of the Best Actress Oscar. Inevitably, no one will ever match it, but to think Gwyneth Paltrow won the same award for her role in "Shakespeare in Love" is laughable.

Kevin Kline is brilliant as the chilling yet endearing Nathan, whilst Peter MacNicol is the character whose superb narration and acting transmits us into the movie.

I noticed that the morose Pauline Kael, the most ludicrously over-respected film critic of all time, once again shows her cynicism in finding much fault with the movie: I will have none of it: it is utterly moving, without having to resort to cliché or overloud, haunting music to influence our emotions. Quite simply, the subject matter - Sophie's tragic life and (in)ability to come to terms with what has happened to her - is enough to do this on its own.

The final frame is to me, perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen, and the film will stay with the viewer long after.
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The Trolley Problem
tieman6421 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Alan Pakula directs "Sophie's Choice", adapted from a William Styron novel by the same name. Both were released in the wake of the NBC miniseries "Holocaust" (1978), which rekindled mainstream interest in the Final solution.

Highly melodramatic, the film's first half revolves around the tribulations of the Polish Catholic Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep), who has left Post-War Europe for life in Brooklyn, New York. Here she lives with the volatile Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline), a Jewish con man who suffers from schizophrenia. Landau is abusive toward Sophie, plays power games with her, and suspects that Sophia may have betrayed Jews or sided with the Nazis in return for her own personal safety. Both Landau and Sophie are enveloped by self hate; Sophie tortures herself because she did indeed have a secret relationship with the Nazis, whilst Landau literally embodies a kind of Jewish survivor's guilt. The tale's title initially seems to refer to a choice Sophie must make in the present, choosing between one of two lovers, Landau or a young writer called Stingo, but is eventually revealed to be a reference to a past choice given to Sophie by a Nazi officer. His ultimatum? Sophie must choose which of her two children will be killed, lest they both are. Sophie's choice – her giving up of her son – is just one psychic scar carried by the woman throughout the film; her father was a eugenicist who advocated the extermination of Jews.

Styron's tale is different from most Holocaust narratives. He focuses on Christians and Slavs (the Holocaust was anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic) and like Lumet's "The Pawnbroker", a Jew is explicitly one of the tale's key bullies. The film and the novel also differ wildly. A large portion of Styron's novel - completely absent in the film - focuses on white-on-black racism, the American South and the slave trade, and subscribed to a view which Holocaust professor Richard Rubenstein says "rejects Christian anti-Semitism as causative" in favour for the belief that "in its essential character Auschwitz was a capitalistic slave society as much as or even more than it was an extermination centre". The novel also continuously jostles Sophie's first person narratives, Stingo's POV and an omniscient narrator. The overall effect is such that the viewpoints of victims and executioners become blurred or fused together. Styron's story is also structured such that multiple narrators find themselves selfishly warring over both Sophie's body and her story, desperate to claim her "victimization" for themselves. Shades of Egoyan's "Ararat" (a more overtly "postmodern" Holocaust story, in which different tribes literally attempt to co-opt the past for themselves).

Interestingly, Nathan, a kind of Doppelgänger of German sadists, is himself a Jewish Nazi, whilst the Nazi officer who forces Sophie to choose between her children is himself given an early speech in which he bemoans having to play God, a weight which he eventually grants Sophie; he allows her to also play executioner. Both Nathan and the Nazi are creatures of the "grey zone", a concept developed by Primo Levi and further elaborated upon by Giorgio Agamben. For both, the grey zone refers to the blurring of boundaries between victims and executioners, and to the murky process of contamination and collaboration by which relationships within the death camps defied any simplistic Manichaean division of good and evil, imposing instead a condition of extreme equivocation (typically in the form of double binds or impossible situations). The zone is a kind of threshold of indistinction, which calls into question the very notion of ethics.

Pakula may never go down as a great director, but he was interesting in the way, like Kubrick, he tended to focus on power, conspiracy and power's reliance on double-binds and no win scenarios. Like Warren Beatty in Pakula's "Parallax View", who becomes enshrined in the Law he attempts to remain apart of and/or destroy, Sophie can't help but be complicit. Incidentally, the choice Sophie faces is known as The Double Trolley Problem, a famous thought experiment in cognitive science, neuro-ethics and philosophy. The problem typically involves a subject being given a choice between either allowing 2 trolleys to run over and so kill 2 separate people, or attaching one trolley to another so that only one person dies. The answer to the problem differs depending on whichever branch of philosophy one belongs to. A utilitarian, for example, would typically always save one person. Other schools believe that making the choice is itself an unethical act; had you not intervened, the ethical breech (making the choice to deliberately kill) does not fall on you. When confronted with this problem in surveys, most people instinctively refuse to choose, perceiving "choosing" as being a complicit and "unethical" act. When presented with the choice between photos of loved ones (who will hypothetically die), people overwhelmingly tend to refuse to make the choice as well. According to studies, this is true for over 90 percent of human beings. The less than 10 percent who make utilitarian choices display strong tendencies toward psychopathy, Machiavellianism or tend to view life as being intrinsically meaningless.

The film is handsomely shot, but is overly slow and Pakula's use of the Stingo character – a literary device not necessarily needed on film – goes nowhere. The way the film manipulates us into a state of artificial suspense (what is the choice? Who does Sophie choose?) is somewhat tasteless, Pakula's delaying of "the choice" and making it "the final solution" to a mystery echoing the Nazi's manipulating and dismissing of Sophie's humanity. Meryl Streep's acting here is praised, but its overly busy and virtuosic. It's the kind of flashy acting – all surfaces and no depth - that always wins awards; Pakula should have reigned her in.

7.9/10 – Worth one viewing.
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The benchmark performance
yusef676 November 2005
I haven't seen this movie since its first release, but the mere mention of it still gives me chills.. Not just for the subject matter, which on its own is deep and haunting.. But for the greatest performance ever seen by an actor.. Meryl Streep has since proved she is probably the greatest actress in cinema, and her portrayal of Sophie will be all that will be needed to certify that assertion... She has done brilliant work since then, and of course there are some who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with her, but her body of work cannot possibly be out-done. And Sophie's Choice is her signature piece.. Her effortless tackling of complex languages with such ease and clarity was a jaw-dropper. Streep changed the ballgame with this gem. The bar was raised so high for her generation that it became crystal clear that no one would ever come close... And now over twenty years since its release it is safe to say.. No one ever did...
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jastreepme816 January 2006
I already knew that Meryl Streep was a phenomenal actress even before watching what many consider her greatest performance as Sophie. I have developed deep admiration for her brilliant portrayals of unforgettable characters like Karen Blixen, Francesca Johnson, and Joanna Kramer, to name some of my favorites. I am already a devoted fan, notwithstanding that the film I had so much wanted to watch kept eluding me. Until that day came when I finally watched her blew me away in what I dubbed as a magnificently explosive performance. Sophie's Choice has elevated my admiration to Streep to levels no other obsession of mine can ever reach.

There's no way this class of artistry will be outrank. Streep is peerless.
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