Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Running Time: 150 mins
Sophie’s Choice is an American film about a young Polish woman living in Brooklyn with a passionate but unstable man. After befriending a writer who moves in downstairs, her life continues to blossom, however the horrors of her past do not lie far behind.
If you’ve ever heard of a so-called ‘Sophie’s Choice’, then you’ll know that this film presents a daunting concept. At times, it’s a film with stunning drama and unimaginable emotional power, with a couple of sequences that will stay with you for a very, very long time afterwards. However, the film isn’t without its weaknesses, and with the exception of its moments of legendary drama, its plot is occasionally a little haphazard, failing to string together the arcs of two or three major characters in fully cohesive fashion.
At two and a half full hours, there’s without a doubt a lot to Sophie’s Choice as a film. The majority of the movie, however, isn’t exactly as you’d expect, playing out like a more relaxed period drama with only the more subtle rumblings of something a lot darker growing throughout.
In fact, the film’s first hour and a half is actually a rather elegant one, with the story of Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s passionate relationship encountering its various ups and downs, while they spend their days with their neighbour and new best friend, played by Peter MacNicol, in a story that’s incredibly reminiscent of the relationship between Nick, Daisy and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, albeit with a 1940s setting.
Saying that, however, there isn’t quite as much aesthetic emphasis on the time period as that of The Great Gatsby, with the three main characters’ regularly diverging development taking centre stage over the course of the first hour and a half. While Sophie, played by Streep, tries to live her life as normal, albeit with some ambiguous traumas of her past in the Holocaust, her more hot-headed boyfriend Nathan, played by Kline, regularly creates instability in her life, and Stingo, played by MacNicol, looks on from an outside perspective at a relationship with clear passion, but deep-seated troubles below the surface.
So, the first hour and a half proves a rather engrossing personal drama with the promise of something more, which is exactly what comes as we move into the film’s middle and final acts.
There’s a turn in the story that then takes us back to the time in which Sophie was caught up in the Holocaust, being taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and, as we hear her narrate her story of desperately sad proportions, the many horrors that she encountered.
This is definitely where the film hits its most impressive and dramatic heights, with Streep putting in a fantastic performance that not only sees her switching between three languages throughout – English, Polish and German – but also bringing stunning emotion to the table as she suffers from the injustices of the Nazis.
You may have seen the likes of Schindler’s List, but Sophie’s Choice is a film that goes deeper into the deep emotional and moral horrors that so many millions were forced into during the Holocaust, with one infamous and gut-wrenching sequence proving one of the most powerful and devastating moments you’ll ever see on film, and thoroughly worth waiting over two hours for.
After that period of exceptional drama, the film falls back into its period drama persona, albeit with a little less of a grounded air towards the end, with some of the main characters taking unconvincing and frustrating turns that actually bring the movie to a bit of a haphazard and underwhelming end.
But the memory of that sequence, with such emotional depth and horror portrayed in as little as a few short seconds, is what really stands out in this film, and is likely to stay with you for longer than likely any moment in film will ever.
Overall, Sophie’s Choice is an impressive film, complete with both pleasant and engrossing drama, as well as deeply affecting and often haunting displays of terror in the Holocaust. It’s not quite as perfect or consistent a film as it should be, with a few too many character arcs getting drawn a little too far apart throughout, but the fact remains that it’s a film with exceptional drama at its core, and one that you should definitely find the time to watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.