Sophie’s Choice (1982) Review

Sophie’s Choice is a fairly crafted film brought to life by some of the best acting you will find in any film, ever. The year is 1947 and Peter MacNicol plays Stingo, a young, Southern writer who travels to New York for inspiration. Meryl Streep is Sophie, a Pol and former Nazi concentration camp prisoner, now living in Brooklyn with her inexplicably verbally abusive Jewish boyfriend, Nathan (Kevin Kline). Stingo comes to live downstairs from them and quickly becomes embroiled in their lives, experiencing the two things he believes a writer needs to in order to write: love and death.

While this coming-of-age story obviously revolves around Stingo, it’s very fair to the other players as well. Character development is typically handled through dialogue and static shots, which is a blessing and a curse. The more explosive scenes where Nathan is ranting and railing, while Stingo and Sophie try to calm him are exciting to behold and the tension is oftentimes palpable. Conversely, the softer moments between Stingo and Sophie seem mired down in boring exposition. That aside, the character development here is very dense and viewers will leave with a very good sense of who these people are.

Almost too much time is given to the study of these characters. So much so that the plot becomes overly simplified to: Watch Stingo come of age. The end. In fact, as the film goes on, we lose interest in our protagonist and become more curious about Sophie, if only to witness more of Meryl Streep’s pitch-perfect performance. The attempts to rein the focus back onto Stingo with brief tangents on his sexual escapades end up being annoying distractions, especially when they don’t go anywhere. By the end of the movie, Stingo feels more like a glorified extension of the audience within the movie than anything else.

The draw of this film, however, will be the acting. Meryl Streep won a well-deserved Oscar for her role as Sophie. You will believe that Sophie, as portrayed on film, is a real person. Streep speaks her accent perfectly and uncannily chooses the right words to fumble in English. The naturalness of this acting is nothing short of amazing. The expression of pure anguish on Sophie’s face during her “choice” will echo through your soul.

In contrast, Kevin Kline plays Nathan with a little more affectation and will remind you that you are watching a film. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, since Nathan’s character calls for this kind of acting, if only for practical reasons, and serves to highlight Streep’s performance even more so.

The choice Sophie made in her past is revealed towards the end of the film, but by then we don’t really care about it. Moreover, it seems almost unrelated to the rest of the film in that her current conflict appears to concern her rocky relationship with Nathan, not something that happened while she was a Nazi prisoner. Only when we pick through the film in review does her choice have any story value, but all-in-all, the extra character development is unnecessary to enjoy this movie.