Sophie’s Choice – The Anguish of Survival
It’s been a really long time since I watched this movie and I had forgotten most everything except for Meryl Streep’s completely believable Polish accent and tragic beauty. What I also discovered in researching this piece was “Sophie’s Choice” was where Kevin Kline got his start in movies. I had always assumed that he began his movie career in “The Big Chill” which came out a year later in 1983, but he was actually performing in “The Pirates of Penzance” on stage when he was recruited to try out for the part of Nathan.
“Sophie’s Choice” is charged with emotion from beginning to end; from the relative innocence of the movie’s narrator and his sweet admiration of the lovers to Nathan’s rages and Sophie’s tragic tale of Auschwitz and the loss of her family.
I won’t bore you with a recap of the movie since there is probably a glut of information on the web including fine critical reviews and summaries of the story line. I think the most important aspect of this movie is how it makes you feel – what a terrible thing it is to outlive one’s family; the guilt of surviving while so many perished in the camps.
The relationship between Nathan & Sophie is one I remember trying to puzzle out when I originally watched this movie. I couldn’t figure out why Sophie felt beholden enough to Nathan to suffer through his fiery rages and welcome him back each time with grateful sweetness. Perhaps such a relationship would be based upon his saving her life, but also that her life meant so very little to her because she didn’t feel she deserved to live. In watching the supplemental video which was included on the dvd, it is mentioned by the author that Sophie is at least able to escape her memories by losing herself in the passionate love-making she shares with Nathan.
Though Nathan’s illness is not named in the movie (other than insanity), the Wikipedia page for the movie lists Nathan as Paranoid Schizophrenic (same diagnosis as John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind”). This would explain his delusional paranoia when it came to his jealous nature and Sophie. The use of Benzedrine and Cocaine would, I must assume, exacerbate the chemical imbalance causing even more erratic behavior.
In the movie, Sophie allows herself to open up to Stingo while Nathan is off raging somewhere in the city. One can see that as she allows herself to share her memories of what she experienced and the loss of those she loved, she begins to lose the desire to live. It is significant that she allows Stingo to be her confessor knowing that Nathan would wield the painful memories as weapons against her during his insane rages.
Meryl Streep spent three months learning Polish, and then practiced speaking English with a Polish accent afterwards in preparation for this roll. She also learned some German. To prepare for the concentration camp scenes in the movie, she practiced a strict diet and limited her fluid intake in order to appear as emaciated as possible for her role. I can only say that she was brilliant in her portrayal.
I must also commend Keven Kline for his righteous anger, biting sarcasm and euphoric flights of fancy in this film. What a spectacular way to begin a career in film (and what a lucky man to have Meryl as a mentor).