Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest films about the holocaust., 25 Mar 2010
This review is from: Sophie's Choice (Special Edition) [DVD] (DVD)
I first watched this film shortly after it was released. At the time Meryl Streep was a fairly highly regarded new actress, famous mostly for the 'Deer hunter'. It is difficult at around 25 years remove to appreciate the sensation her performance created at the time. I think that this difficulty in part arises from the fact that Streep has become such a house-hold name now,a 'Star', rightly praised for the rigour which she brought to so many subsequent roles ( A friend once jokingly asserted that Streep went out and deliberately contracted syphillis to be more convincing as Karen Blixen in 'Out of Africa').In the light of this there are now identifiable idiosyncracies and Streep 'mannerisms', which can invade the viewers mind when this film is re-visited, or to younger people familiar with Streep films who are seeing this one for the first time. Had she dropped out of sight following this film I'm sure that this would be regarded as one of the most profoundly moving cinematic performances of all time.
Much has been made of her mastering two completely unrelated languages for the role, whilst this is an amazing feat, I think this is also something of a distraction. I'm sure that there are many first rate linguists who can't act for toffee.If the film had been mono-lingual I still think she would have carried it off.
Kevin Klein, another intelligent and talented actor is perfectly cast as the febrile, flawed schizophrenic Nathan, his Errol Flynn profile, making him "fatally glamorous". And the young and callow 'Stingo' is also ably played.

One criticism made at the time was that it boiled the Holocaust down to the experiences of one woman. Another was that Sophie, a woman spiritually destroyed by Fascism, is a Pole. And that this is unfairly juxtaposed with the character of Nathan who, despite his maniacally Quixotic hatred of Nazis, is an American Jew who never himself experienced any of the horrors depicted. The question of the extent of war time Polish anti-Semitism is also touched upon.
Another interesting aspect is that Nathan and Sophie love and play 19th century music constantly- the music of Beethoven and Schumann - Germans. They quote the optimistic,romantic poetry of Dickinson, Whitman, Wolfe and Hart Crane. All their intellectual sensibilites serve to remind us that they were children of the post-enlightenment, a generation whose aspirations for humanity and belief in universal moral progress were shattered by the horrors of the mid-twentieth century.
And Sophies loss, the result of her 'choice', is unbearable. And that one scene, as enacted by Meryl Streep, is one of the most harrowing experiences you will see on film. So unbearable in fact, that at 25 years remove,and now with children of my own, I can not bring myself to watch it.

A further disquieting reflection is that the book, written by the late William Styron, is not completely fictional. He maintained that Sophie (although not with that name) actually existed.
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