91 – Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Stingo: How could I have failed to have the most helpless crush on such a generous mind and life-enlarging mentor? Nathan was utterly, fatally glamorous.

 

SEEN BEFORE?

R: No.

F: Yes.

 

THOUGHTS?

R: Meryl Streep certainly does some acting in this. I kept forgetting we were actually watching an American and not a Polish actress, and I genuinely think her performance here might be one of the best by any actor in anything.

F: It is an incredible performance. She goes through the full range of emotions, from joy to grief to extreme horror. I am trying to think of a counter example to your point but right now I can’t think of one. I also think Kevin Kline is excellent in this. It would be very easy for the character to be cartoonish and unbelievable but he treads that line perfectly.

R: Yes Kevin Kline as Nathan probably has the most difficult role. Abusive but charming, intelligent but unhinged; it’s quite an achievement to make a part like that believable but he has great fun with it. And we probably shouldn’t overlook Peter MacNicol as Stingo who also does well in the more understated role of the wannabe author who’s come to New York for inspiration. At times I found his narration a little flowery and irritating, but presumably that was intended to give us a sense of the style of his writing?

F: Yes I think it’s meant to be Stingo recounting the story to others so in that way it does work. And it’s a contrast to Sophie’s retelling of her past. There’s no denying there are some very tough moments in this film. It sets up early on that Sophie is a Holocaust survivor and the scenes in Auschwitz are as shocking as they should be. But it’s a credit to the film that it does not shy away from its subject.

R: Yes there are plenty of films that show how horrible the Nazis were, but I think what sets this film apart is that it focuses on the psychological brutality. It’s particularly effective because before we discover what Sophie’s choice is, we see her living with the consequences of her experiences. The way she recounts the final piece of her story to Stingo, straight to camera and without a hint of melodrama, is yet another way in which Streep gets her performance just right. We should probably give some credit to the director for that too.

F: Absolutely, the direction is very understated in this film so as to keep the story flowing. This is the third film in a row on the list set in New York but it’s a very different to the city we saw in the previous two movies.

R: For sure, the New York of this film is much more attractive than the city we saw in either Goodfellas or The French Connection.

F: It still seems to invoke the feelings of chasing some kind of life though – this is where Sophie chose to come after the war after all and there are those sweeping shots of the Brooklyn Bridge.

R: Not just Sophie. Nathan and Stingo also came to New York as some form of escape. Instead of the city of gangsters and drug-dealers here we get to see the more commonly experienced New York: the city of immigrants.

F: You mentioned Sophie’s choice in passing above. Having seen this film before I knew what it was, but it didn’t make that scene any less powerful or emotional. Again, I think that’s down to the direction and Meryl’s performance. It’s a devastating moment and probably one of the most famous scenes in modern American cinema.

R: Yeah, now I’ve seen it I realise that scene has been parodied approximately a bazillion times. Was there anything you didn’t like? The score is a bit a naff, isn’t it?

F: Yes there were a couple of things. The score for one is a little old fashioned, and I also feel that the scenes in New York look a bit dated. The colour is a bit over-saturated and the house where they live looks like it’s straight out of a Disney film.

R: That sounds like nit-picking to me! The film certainly feels a bit dated in parts but I think Streep’s performance is so good it’s helped keep the film relevant and gives the whole thing a real timeless quality.

 

IS IT WORTHY OF THE TOP 100?

F: Yes I think so. And not just because I feel the subject matter is a story that needs telling.

R: I went in with low expectations fearing it might be an overly “worthy” film but was pleasantly surprised. It’s a yes from me.

 

Up Next:
90 – Swing Time (1936)
Previously:
92 – Goodfellas (1990)
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