Film Review: Sophie’s ChoiceSome films based on books end up becoming classics to be enjoyed for generations. Sophie’s Choice is just that; a classic film. The story of a Polish mother who survived Auschwitz but never escapes its demons, and who falls into a tumultuous love relationship, makes Sophie’s Choice bittersweet.
The film is based on the 1979 bestselling novel by William Styron, which received the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1980 (The National Book Foundation). Alan J. Pakula, a Polish Jewish American from New York himself, wrote the script and directed the film (Film Reference).
Sophie Zawistowski is played by Meryl Streep. Streep holds the distinction of having received the most nominations in Golden Globe Awards history with 23 nominations and the most Golden Globe awards at seven awards (O'Neil, Los Angeles Times, 2010-01-17). As a Polish immigrant raised around adults with Polish accents, I found her portrayal as a Polish immigrant woman flawless and flattering.
Sophie’s life story is carefully, slowly woven throughout the film and begins in Krakow, Poland where she was the daughter of a Fascist professor and wife to a man who was part of the Resistance along with his sister. Her time in Poland was filled with tragedy, as her husband and father were taken to concentration camps, and she was likewise arrested along with her children for smuggling meat to her sick mother. At the camp, an SS officer made advances at her and she used the German she knew to plead that he spare her children.
The terrible moment came in the film when she had to choose which child was to die by gas chamber and she chose her daughter, Ewa, over Jan and this became what is known now as “Sophie’s Choice”, an unbearably difficult decision, which haunted her forever (Urban Dictionary). She never found out what happened to her children. Over 1.5 million children were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust (Holocaust Encyclopedia) Boys who survived selection were used as stonemasons, assistants, sexual toys for German Kapos, underfed and often poisoned with phenol injections (Children in Auschwitz, part 1). Given this grim reality, it was highly unlikely that Jan survived and that he essentially shared the same fate as Ewa. In my heart, I wonder whether the deepest agony Sophie carried about her “choice” was perhaps that she wondered if little Ewa carried that feeling of abandonment to her death.
The plot of the film begins with Stingo, played by Emmy award-winning actor Peter MacNicol, who moves from Virginia to Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York and starts working on a novel. He meets Nathan Landau, played by Kevin Kline, and Sophie. The film flows through scenes of friendship and flickers of unclear tension until Nathan has an episode, as he suffers from manic-depressive schizophrenia, and accuses Stingo and Sophie of sleeping together. The tension continues as Sophie tells her story, sleeps with Stingo and finally runs back to Nathan to commit suicide together with him by cyanide.
I believe that cyanide is used in the film as symbolism of irony. The irony is that Sophie ultimately met the same fate that she escaped but which her children did not escape from on the night they arrived at Auschwitz. And instead of dying holding her terrified children, she held the hand of a man who emotionally was in a way like a child. I also believe that the piano represented the past, the world before World War II and her mother. It also represented Sophie’s relationship with Nathan; him being Narcissistic and her being Dependant in terms of Personality Disorders.
In the end it is a beautiful, timeless film that tells a tragic story and ends with sorrow. Yet, even in it’s sorrow, Sophie’s Choice still leaves a trail like a spiders silk reflecting in moonlight: faint, delicate, but beautiful.
"1980 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation." 1980 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation. N.p., n.d. http://www.nationalbook.org/
"Alan Pakula Biography." Film Reference. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.filmreference.com/
O'Neil, Tom (2010-01-17). "Meryl Streep breaks record with win No. 7 at Golden Globes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
"Sophie's Choice." Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.urbandictionary.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/?
"CHILDREN IN AUSCHWITZ(part 1)." CHILDREN IN AUSCHWITZ. N.p., n.d. http://www.wsg-hist.uni-linz.
Sadly, my internet crashed when I was halfway through completing the research for this paper. However, I still received a B+ for it! I hope you enjoy it.