As a Radio, Television, and Film student, I am interested to (and feel an obligation to) watch movies considered the greatest ever. The American Film Institute has a list of the 100 greatest American films, compiled in 2008. When I first looked, I had seen 17 films on the list. I want to see as many of these films as possible, so I picked a random film on the list that I had never seen before and watched it. The film was Sophie’s Choice.
In my RTVF 1320 class (film appreciation), I learned how to write analyses for movies. I decided to write an analysis for Sophie’s Choice because I need A LOT of practice as far as writing about film goes.
#91: Sophie’s Choice (1982, Alan J. Pakula)
Yesterday I watched Sophie’s Choice, a 1982 film directed by Alan J. Pakula. It ranks #91 on the American Film Institute’s 10th Anniversary Edition of their list of the top 100 greatest American films.
The film follows the character of Stingo, played by Peter MacNicol. Stingo is a young, aspiring author who moves from southern Virginia to Brooklyn in order to write his first novel. He moves into a boarding house, and while there he befriends two other tenants: Nathan (played by Kevin Kline), a biologist, and his girlfriend Sophie (played by Meryl Streep), a Polish Holocaust survivor. As Stingo fosters his friendships with Nathan and Sophie, he is given glimpses into their largely dark pasts and finds himself now a part of their troubled lives.
Uplifting, this film is not. Sophie’s Choice engages the viewer’s emotions from the first few scenes, and nonstop until the very end. Just about every aspect of this film works together to achieve the incredible emotional effect.
Character performance in this film is incredible. Meryl Streep’s depiction of Sophie is widely regarded as her breakout role, and it’s easy to see why. Streep brings great, realistic, sincere emotion to her character, but does not overdo it. The character of Sophie speaks several languages, and Streep nails the dialect changes that occur throughout the film; switching from accented-English, to Polish, and to German.
Kevin Kline excels at his role as Nathan, bringing eccentricity to the character. His exaggerated, over-the-top emotions, especially joy, sadness, and anger, provide evidence and explanation for he and Sophie’s tumultuous relationship. Peter MacNicol gives an honest performance of naïve, well-meaning, uncertain Stingo; making him a believable outsider who only wants to help Nathan and Sophie, but may not be properly equipped to do so.
The scenes in this film are partially in chronological order (shown as they happen), and partially flashbacks. The chronological scenes are mostly from the point of view of Stingo. The flashbacks occur when Sophie recalls to Stingo her life in Poland and her experience in Auschwitz. The flashback scenes are essential to understand the depth of Sophie’s character and to the overall plot of the film.
“Mise-en-scene” is carefully crafted with attention to detail. The scenes set in 1947 are in full color, while Sophie’s flashbacks are in dreary, muted tones. The color difference compares and contrasts the quality of Sophie’s life in the “present” with the quality (or lack thereof) of her life in the past. 1947 is depicted very realistically and convincingly. Set design, props, costumes, etc. contribute to the scenery’s authenticity. Likewise, the settings of Poland and Auschwitz are portrayed with the same intricate detailing. Scenes in the officer’s house on the Auschwitz camp give a thought-provoking juxtaposition of the lives of the wealthy Nazi officers and their families with the lives of the prisoners.
Sophie’s Choice was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Best Music, and Best Writing. Meryl Streep won Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as Sophie. Every aspect of this film seems to make it an award-winner.