Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Film #60: Sophie's Choice

Alan J. Pakula, the man who produced To Kill a Mockingbird and directed, among others, All The President's Men and The Parallax View, wrote and directed this majestic, extremely faithful adaptation of
Pulitzer-Prize-winner William Styron's stunning semi-autobiographical novel. In it, Peter MacNichol endearingly plays Stingo, a young 40s-era Southerner who journeys to "a place as strange as Brooklyn" where, while trying to compose the Great American Novel, he befriends his neighbors: Sophie Zowistowska (Meryl Streep), a beautiful Polish survivor of the Nazi death camps, and her lover, Nathan (Kevin Kline), a moody Jewish chemist obsessed with the Nazis' escape from justice. Through this relationship, the hungry, naive Stingo receives his first all-important contact with the forces of love and death, but in very unexpected ways.

This is certainly one of my very favorite movies; I could quote its dialogue from beginning to end, I love it so. Streep rightfully garnered every award in the book for portraying the complicated, frightened Sophie. The actress shaved her head, lost 30 pounds, gained them right back again and then some, and learned both German and Polish in order to play the role, and it proved conclusively to the world in 1982 that there was a new queen of acting with which to contend. Kline, following a successful stage run that earned him two Tony awards, made quite a notable screen debut with his showy, moving role as the mercurial Nathan. And the wide-eyed MacNichol is very likable foil to the couple, his loyalties battered between the two like a play-toy. I should also say some kind words about Josef Sommer, the terrific character actor who vibrantly narrates the movie as an older Stingo.

Pakula lifted much of his dialogue directly from Styron's book, creating a beautifully literate and intelligent screenplay that earned him his third Oscar nomination. Photographer Nestor Alamendros cleverly contrasts the bright colors of Brooklyn with the washed-out tones of Nazi Germany, and composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Johann Strauss to great emotional effect. It should be said that Sophie's titular choice isn't as obvious as it may seem; to say the least, when it comes time to be made, it is one of film history's most devastating moments.

I'd like to note that I found this photo of the regal Brooklyn home that was used (and, I believe, painted pink) for the apartment house in Sophie's Choice. It's located at 101 Rugby Road in Flatbush, in the Victorian-era neighborhood of Prospect Park South.

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