100 Movie Challenge: #91 Sophie’s Choice

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Sophie's Choice 1982
Sophie’s Choice 1982

Our  journey through film’s finest has brought us to one of the all-time tearjerkers.  Based on the novel by William Styron, the 1982 drama, Sophie’s Choicefeatures a dazzling performance by a young Meryl Streep and comes in at number 91 on our list. And while the story may not make a perfect transition from page to screen, the high-intensity drama and Streep’s masterful work are something to behold.

The plot follows Stingo, a small-town novelist who has just moved into an apartment complex in Brooklyn; played by Peter MacNicol. Once there, he is befriended by the charming but unstable Nathan (played by Kevin Kline) and his girlfriend, Holocaust survivor Sophie.

On paper, it’s by no means a perfect film. The action is slow at times, the plot is extremely vague, and the character development is certainly limited at best. Most of this can probably be blamed on the film’s novelistic background. Even if you’ve never read the book, you can get a pretty good sense of how it reads from watching the film. There’s an amazing attention to detail and characterization that is certainly unique on screen, but lacks some of the cinematic qualities we’ve come to expect.

However, that wealth of character background is perhaps what made these characters so lively on film. Every one has a seemingly endless breadth of past experiences to draw upon. And as those past experiences are revealed, the film picks up an intense amount of dramatic steam.

A young Meryl Streep as "Sophie" alongside MacNicol as "Stingo"
A young Meryl Streep as “Sophie” alongside MacNicol as “Stingo”

If you want to talk about a film that is at risk of spoilers, this is it. The film culminates in an emotional  scene that literally left me with my mouth open. If it hasn’t already been spoiled for you, I will say no more in order to preserve your innocence, other than it is quite possibly one of the most tense, emotional, dramatic, and well-acted scenes I’ve ever seen. The film is worth it for this scene alone.

But that’s not all that’s there! Which is why Sophie’s Choice earns an A, and for the constant debate over socialist themes and theories, earns a 6.5 on the Liberty Scale. It is truly a lesson in acting from one of film’s all-time greats, and surely would compete for the title of Streep’s greatest role. Fans of Streep, fans of acting, and fans of drama alike should all have Sophie’s Choice in their cinematic vocabulary.

We’re shifting gears next time with the lovably upbeat Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in #90 Swing Time.

Were you floored by Streeps performance? Or were you unable to get past the novelistic style of Sophie’s Choice? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

Richard Mattox

Richard Mattox is the head editor of Smash Cut Culture and a 2013 alumnus of the Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop and Internship program. Currently pursuing a Masters in Professional Writing (screenwriting emphasis) from USC, Mattox is an avid film-junkie, a singer-songwriter, and a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan.

  • Myles Nuzzi

    Something that I have noticed as of late in the film industry is the use of very quick cuts during scenes of monologue or dialogue (is a trialogue a thing?). If an actor or actress is giving an emotional monologue, there are many cuts that take away from the speaker’s story-telling. This allows the actor to sort of cheat their emotions, able to do take after take, getting the perfect shot when a single (perhaps artificial) tear rolls down their cheek.

    When I think of this movie, I will forever think about what I believe to be the greatest performance by an actress (or actor) of all time. Streep gives one monologue toward the end that is particularly heartbreaking that transitions through every emotion, allowing audiences to fully relate and empathize with what she is saying, without being interrupted by distracting and nugatory cuts. I don’t think that these types of cuts in film are always a bad thing, for they can be important for establishing character relationships or setting- but when all that’s important is this agonizing choice, audiences need not see anything except Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance.

  • Nancy Reagan

    Blade Runner should have been higher on this list.

    • Matt Edwards

      Everything about this comment just made my day.