It’s time to bite the bullet and bear it. It’s time to finally review one of the most challenging films that Tyler and I have had to watch during this film challenge. It’s time for Sophie’s Choice.
A bit of background: Sophie’s Choice tells the story of a young writer from Georgia named Stingo (played by Peter MacNicol) who moves to Brooklyn to more fully pursue being a writer (because as everyone knows, you can’t be a writer/artist unless you live in New York, Los Angeles, or Paris. Sometimes London). He moves into a boarding house where he meets Nathan and Sophie (played by Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep), two lovers who live in the flat above him and with whom he soon becomes close friends. However, the more Stingo comes to know them, the more secrets he uncovers about their lives, both present and past, which changes both his and the audience’s perception of who Nathan and Sophie are.
Before I tackle my personal thoughts on the film, I’m simply going to talk about the technical aspects since I believe that will make my thoughts on the film more clear. First, the performances. The actors in this movie were good. Like really good. Like really really really good. I can’t adequately elaborate on what these actors do with these roles in this film. We all know that Meryl Streep is incapable of giving a bad performance (seriously, she’s even good in her bad movies). Here though, she goes above and beyond the call of duty (not to De Niro levels of method or anything, but you get the idea). She makes us believe Sophie was a real person who actually existed, who came from Poland and immigrated to America, who took English lessons, eventually got better but never truly got the hang of it. She’s someone who’s grateful to be alive and grateful for all that she has, yet saddened and damaged by what she has had to endure at the cruelty of others. She’s someone who fell hopelessly in love, so much so that she can’t let go of him when she knows she probably should. Seriously guys, she’s incredible! Then there’s Kevin Kline who I am beginning to respect more and more as I am exposed to more of his work. The energy that he exudes on screen is stimulating but never overpowering. None of the subtlety or complexity of the character is lost in how big he plays the character. In portraying Nathan’s violent mood swings, he’s always believable and never devolves into caricature. Finally, there’s Peter MacNicol. … Well, it’s the first time I’ve liked him in a role, so that’s something! (The only roles I’ve seen him in are Ghostbusters II and the Mr. Bean movie… yeah.) He does a good job with what is ultimately a thankless role as he’s the straight man, the audience surrogate that plays witness to the force of chaos that is Nathan and Sophie’s relationship. I’ll give him credit for guiding us through the story.
That should give you a clear enough picture about what kind of film this is. I now feel that I can speak frankly about my own opinions. Here we go: I loved the first half of this movie. Loved it. It was like watching a riveting play, where the characters unfolded on the screen and we, the audience, got to be witnesses to this moment in their lives. I’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to the performances, about how they brought the characters to life, and that is what initially drew me in. Like in a play where you watch real people act out life right in front of you, I watched these characters feel more real than most movie characters do (based on the medium’s separative nature and not the lack of bad performances in films). I also related deeply to the friendship that the three main characters shared. I’ve been a part of friend groups where we shared the best times of our lives with each other. These were people that could always get together and have a good time, no matter what the circumstance. (Thankfully, none of the relationships I’ve had have ended as badly as the ones in Sophie’s Choice did. If they did, I would most likely need serious therapy and believe that the Polish should never ever date American Jews that look like Kevin Kline.) The script and the actors perfectly captured that feeling of belonging to a group of people who you feel understand you perfectly. While I enjoyed the progression of the story, which up to that point is very well-executed, the relationships between the characters particularly stood out to me.
Then we come to the second act, or what I like to call “The Longest Flashback Scene in the History of Cinema (Not Counting Citizen Kane).” (Seriously, the second act is one long flashback scene.) It doesn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s completely out of place. Stylistically it doesn’t fit at all. Sophie starts monologuing about her experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. We follow that story for a while, until we fade back into her face, still monologuing (they must have been sitting at the window for days while Sophie just talked on and on and on) and then fade back into the flashback. It’s completely baffling to me how completely out of place this scene is. And it’s not the content or the tone that’s out of place. There were dark themes explored before this point in the film and we had a flashback before this point too, but the way this scene was executed didn’t make any sense in the context of the rest of the movie! What were they thinking? It wasn’t necessarily a bad scene. It was well-acted, but it was long and it was out of place.
The third act goes back to the goodness that the first act presented. It’s tragic, poignant and really really beautiful. It’s spoiled a bit by the jarring second act, but its power still comes through. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say, the title “Sophie’s Choice” refers to an event much more horrifying than I imagined. It’s an incredibly powerful, and inevitably tragic ending.
I really wanted to love this movie. I was so close to loving it. The first act had most everything that made me excited about watching a movie. If it hadn’t been for the out-of-left-field flashback scene in the second act, this probably would’ve made a spot on my list of 10 or 15 favorite films of all time. Alas, it was not to be.
Final Rating: 8/10
Finally done with this review. Sorry. I got sidetracked with making a movie and such. I have finished the movie portion of the Summer Film Challenge, so yay for that! Next review will be out as soon as I can write it. Will probably be Paris Je T’Aime. The Summer Film Challenge continues into Fall!