Directed by Alan J. Pakula, Sophie’s Choice is a romantic masterpiece set in 1947 but released in 1982. Sophie’s Choice would easily pass for another Holocaust film; actually, looking at it superficially, one gets this impression. However, this film is more than just another Holocaust movie as it goes beyond that to cover life before, during and after the Holocaust.
Flashes of what happened before; during, and after Sophie’s stay in the Auschwitz concentration camp expose how this atrocious experience affects her life until she finally dies after taking cyanide.
As the film opens in 1947, Stingo arrives in Brooklyn and looks forward to embark on his writing career. One would expect the plot to delve into Stingo’s writing career. Unfortunately, the story line takes a major turn after Stingo hears a quarrel upstairs where Sophie and his boyfriend; Nathan, are living. Stingo goes upstairs to investigate only to meet Nathan who has just knocked down Sophie. What a ludicrous way to meet one’s neighbors for the first time.
The following morning Sophie invites Stingo to a walk and she apologizes for the disruption they caused him the previous night. Nevertheless, this walk draws Stingo to Sophie who opens up and pours her past to him. It emerges that Sophie survived the Holocaust and this experience haunts her every time. Before this misfortune, Sophie had Josef as a lover with whom they had two children. Her family died in the hands of Gestapo while she does not know the fate of her son taken away by the Nazis.
On the other side, Nathan is not haunted by any ghosts but is entangled in alcoholism coupled with mental imbalances. Though he works as an aid for a research group, he claims to own the research project that would actually earn him the Nobel Prize. He assaults Sophie but somehow she chooses to stick with him. After Stingo learns of Nathan’s mental imbalance, he (Nathan) threatens to kill both Sophie and Stingo forcing them to flee to a hotel.
They become sexually intimate that night but Sophie sneaks out and goes back to Nathan. Stingo wakes up to find Sophie gone prompting him to pursue her. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches Nathan’s house, Nathan and Sophia have already taken cyanide and they are dead. One would wonder why this film has to title Sophie’s Choice. What choices did Sophie make?
Well, the night that Sophie spends in a hotel with Stingo, she divulges the choices she had to make. During her stay in the concentration camps, she was forced to choose whom to die between the two of her children. By making no choice, she would risk losing both of them; therefore, she chose her son to live and her daughter to die.
This was a debilitating choice but she had no better option. Sophie also made the choice to stick with Nathan even though he was abusive and irresponsible. Surely, this film is all about choices and the title given befits it perfectly.
In life people have to make choices whether voluntarily or involuntary; nevertheless, regardless of the force behind choosing, repercussions of any choice made is inevitable. Looking at the movie superficially, I thought it was just another Holocaust film detailing the atrocious nature of this infamous historical occurrence. However, it goes beyond that as it exposits the repercussions that follow any choice made whether involuntarily or voluntarily.