Sophie's Choice 1982

 

 

 

Director:     Alan J. Pakula.

Starring:     Meryl Streep (Sophie), Kevin Kline (Nathan), Peter MacNicol (Stingo), Rita Karin (Yetta), Stephen D. Newman (Larry), Greta Turken (Leslie Lapidus), Josh Mostel (Morris Fink), Marcell Rosenblatt (Astrid Weinstein), Moishe Rosenfeld (Moishe Rosenblum), Robin Bartlett (Lillian Grossman), Eugene Lipinski (Polish Professor), John Rothman (Librarian), Joseph Leon (Dr. Blackstock), David Wohl (English Teacher), Nina Polan (Woman in English Class), Alexander Sirotin (Man #1 in English Class), Armand Dahan (Man #2 in English Class), Joseph Tobin (Reporter), Cortez Nance (Bellboy), GŁnther Maria Halmer (Rudolf Hoess).

sad story of a couple hampered by mental  illness and the Auschwitz experience

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  "f" word spelled out.

1947.  Two years after WWII.  From the South, Stingo begins his journey to New York City.  He wants to be a writer in New York.  He comes to Brooklyn to find a cheap apartment.  He takes a room in a big house colored pink with reddish-brown trim. 

Stingo comes home with three cases of the meat spam.  It was a tough walk for him  from the store.  He gets an invitation to dinner from the couple Sophie and Nathan, who live upstairs.  All of a sudden, upstairs the music comes on and he hears the sounds of love making and sees his set of lights bouncing up and down.  Later there are sounds of fighting from upstairs.  Sophie tries to stop Nathan from leaving and they argue right on the stairs near Stingo's door.  He watches them fighting.  Nathan separates himself from Sophie's grasp, starts going farther down he stairs and runs right into the writer from the south.  He asks Stingo if he enjoyed their little spectacle?  Then he insults the south, by asking how many "coons" did they lynch lately?    "So long cracker, see you in another life."  Nathan leaves the house. 

Stingo asks Sophie if she's alright?  She says yes.  She then apologizes for the scene she and Nathan created.  Stingo says he's right downstairs and, if she needs help, all she has to do is come get him, and he'll gladly be of service to her.  They talk a bit.  Her father was a professor of laws in Poland.  Stngo notices that she has a concentration number tattooed on her left forearm.  He wrote articles on the threat of the Nazis, and also tried to get help for the Jewish people who were being persecuted. 

Later Sophie brings a plate of food down for Stingo.  After Stingo finishes the food, he goes upstairs and places the tray down by Sophie's door.  He tiptoes across the hall to the other stairs.  Along the way he sees Sophie sleeping in a chair.  She looks pretty and Stingo watches her for awhile, until he hears Nathan coming back to the house.  Stingo hides and lets Nathan go right by him in the shadows.  Nathan goes in and grabs Sophie and they exchange greetings.  Stingo watches a bit, but then goes back downstairs.

In the morning Sophie invites Stingo up for breakfast and afterwards they will go to Coney Island.  Stingo goes upstairs after he's dressed.  Nathan and Sophie are all dressed up and are dancing to the music.  They act like bohemians definitely trying their best to look boring in their spiffy clothes.  Nathan is Jewish but Sophie is a Polish Catholic.  Nathan met Sophie about a year and a half after her liberation from the concentration camp.  She still suffered from a number of ailments.  Sophie thought she was dying, but Nathan said it was just anemia.  He is a biologist and his brother is a medical doctor.  She says that Nathan got a master's degree from Harvard and now he works at Pfizer pharmaceutical house.  The couple love to show public affection, and at times Stingo gets a little embarrassed. 

They go to Coney Island and ride the amusement rides. 

Stingo says the three of them became the best of friends. 

Flashback.  A very malnourished Sophie attends an English class with other refugees.  The English teacher notices how sickly Sophie looks and asks if she needs some assistance. She says no and proceeds to the library.  She asks the librarian where he will find the works of Emile Dickens.  The librarian hears her thick accent and should have known that she was looking for Emily Dickinson.  Apparently, he has no desire to help her.  Sophie gets upset and faints.  When she awakens, she sees another man trying to tend to her.  The man's name is Nathan.  He tells her how beautiful she looks and offers to help her.

Nathan grabs a cab and takes her to his apartment.  He lays her down on his bed for her to sleep. He goes out to get some foods heavy with iron.  Nathan returns and starts the dinner.  A bit later, Sophie awakens.  Nathan pours some wine for her and himself.  As they talk, Nathan comments on her being in a concentration camp.  She says she can't talk about that, and Nathan says he's sorry.  He picks up a book of poems by Emily Dickinson and starts reading them to Sophie.  She is shocked and amused to see that Emile Dickens was actually this Emily Dickinson. 

Back to the present.  Nathan introduces Stingo to a pretty young woman named Leslie Lapidus.  She says she is very interested in sexual intercourse.  She is a very horny girl and Stingo is a very horny boy.  When Nathan visits Leslie, very quickly they are on the floor kissing and hugging.  Her parents and the maid are away.  Stingo feels spectacular once realizing that he would be alone with Leslie for the whole weekend.  The two of them engage in heavy petting, but when Stingo tries to go all the way, Leslie stops him in a hurry.  As narrator, Stingo says:  "Leslie Lapidus could say 'fuck', but she could not do it."

Stingo returns home and Sophie invites him upstairs.  Nathan is out and she is feeling lonely.  She even rearranged the furniture in her apartment.  They start talking and learning about each other.  Stingo's mother died when he was only twelve years old.  Sophie tells Stingo that her father, mother and husband died.  Stingo is shocked to learn that Sophie was married once.  She married a student of her father's at the university.  Stingo asks if father got in trouble with the Germans for writing anti-Nazi articles.  Sophie replies that one day she went to the university and she saw the Germans putting the professors into the backs of trucks.  She saw the faces of her father and her husband and that was the last time she ever saw them.  They were shot the next day.  Her mother died of tuberculosis. 

Sophie bought from the black market some ham.  She was discovered and sent to Auschwitz.  After Auschwitz, she tried to kill herself by cutting her wrists.  She was in a Swedish refugee camp.  There she felt abandoned by Jesus and God.  She starts crying and says there are so many things that she just cannot tell Stingo.  But she does tell Stingo that Nathan is obsessed about the Nazi criminals being allowed to escape.  The Nazis kill six million Jews and are allowed to escape. 

Nathan comes home a bit disheveled and gets suspicious and jealous that Sting is alone in his apartment with Sophie.  Sophie tries to explain in detail what went on, but Nathan is still upset.  After awhile, Nathan apologizes to Stingo for being so paranoid. 

Nathan wants to read what Stingo has been writing.  Stingo says no one will read it until the publisher has read it.  So Nathan grabs the material and escapes through the window and up the fire escape.  He then tells Sophie to take Stingo to the movies, while he reads the material. 

After the movie is over, the three friends take a walk onto the Brooklyn Bridge.  There Nathan proposes a toast with wine and glasses to Stingo's writing.  He then throws his empty glass into the East River. As narrator, Stingo says:  "How could I have failed to have the most helpless crush on such a generous mind and life-enlarging mentor.  Nathan was utterly, fatally glamorous."

Nathan takes off from works and buys expensive gifts for Sophie and Stingo.  He rushes over to a park and has the two people open their gifts.  All the while, his is saying that they have made a breakthrough at work and they might be getting the Noble prize.  He says he has to go back to work now, but they will celebrate when he comes home from work. 

Nathan returns home, but he accuses Sophie of being unfaithful with him.  No, not with Stingo but with her boss.  He is ridiculous with his accusations and perhaps a bit of sadism in his soul.  It's like he's trying to always put down Sophie with wild accusations of doing things that she never did.  And he also does this to Stingo, to a lesser extent.  There's something wrong with this guy.  He switches over to Auschwitz and asks her why did she survive when so many thousands of Jews died in the concentration camp?  He demands that she tell him.  He is being so cruel and unreasonable that Stingo tries to intervene, but Nathan is much bigger than Stingo and he throws Stingo out of the apartment. 

The next morning, Stingo learns from the landlady that Nathan and Sophie got in a taxi and left.  Stingo calls some people who might know where she went, but no one knows anything.  One man, however, tells something very interesting to Stingo about Sophie.  He says:  "She was the daughter of Professor Bieganski. . . . He was crazy about the Nazis.  It think because they hate the Jews as much as he did."  Stingo says the man must be mistaken about the professor, who the Nazis killed.  The man replies the Nazis made a sweep of the professors at the University of Krakow and didn't check the professors' political writings or beliefs.  He then grabs a book of biographies and reads the entry for Professor Bieganski.  The man was known for his anti-Semitic writings. 

Stingo is heading back down South.  His father inherited a farm and asked Stingo to come down and live on the farm.  Stingo says:  "I could not bear to stay in Brooklyn."  While packing his things into suitcases, he hears Sophie's voice saying that she came back to get her things.  She knocks on Stingo's door and comes in.  She says she's sorry about what happened and that Nathan does like his writing, regardless of what Nathan said during his rant.  Sophie then says that they will still be friends.  Stingo says he's going home.  Sophie is upset to hear this.  Stingo says he found out a lot of information about her father, and asks Sophie why did she lie to him?  She says she lied because she thought she would be left all alone.  She goes upstairs.

At night, Stingo comes up and wants Sophie to tell him the truth.  She says she has told so many lies that she doesn't even know what the truth is anymore.  Sophie says she loved her father.  She idolized him.  It wasn't until she was a grown woman that she realized how much she hated her father. It was the winter of 1938.  She would type her father's speeches from a machine and she usually didn't pay much attention to the meaning of the words.  But one day she heard a new word that she has never heard before  The word was "extermination".  She went to the Jewish ghetto and looked at the faces of the people who were going to be killed.  She had to hurry to finish the write-up for her father and she made a lot of mistakes.  Her father read the speech from her paper in front of an audience and he read off the many errors on the paper.  Her father was furious with her and told her in front of his colleagues, he said:  "Zosia, your intelligence is pulp."  After that her father and her husband no longer trusted her. 

She has a lover, Joseph, in Warsaw who was very good to her.  His sister was a leader in the resistance.  The sister showed a picture of Polish children killed because they were not Aryans.  Sister says all they want Sophie to to is translate some stolen Gestapo documents.  Sophie says she can't because it would endanger her children.  Sister says that Sophie's children could be next.   A couple of weeks later the Gestapo killed Joseph.  Shortly after this, Sophie was arrested.  Her two children went with her. 

At Auschwitz, they made the selection of who would live and who would die. Her smallest child, Jan, was sent to the kinderlager, the children's camp.  Her daughter was sent to the crematorium.  She was exterminated.  Because Sophie was educated, she went to work for Reichsfuhrer Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau. She is taken to the huge house of the commandant where she takes a shower with soap.  A man comes in and asks her to help the resistance.  He says Emmi Hoess has a radio.  Her room is under her father's office where Sophie will work.  Sophie could take the radio and give it to the resistance and they can smuggle it out.  He tells her she must get Hoess to trust her.  She can use her famine wiles to pave the way with Hoess.  Besides, she looks German.  And, one last thing, Hoess might get her son out of the kinderlager.   

Sophie is quietly standing in the commandant's kitchen. His wife tells him that she has baked Himmler's favorite cake.  Her husband say Himmler can't make it for dinner.   Sophie is taken to where she will be working.  She sees the radio on the daughter's table in her bedroom.  She also learns that there is a epidemic in the kinderlager.

Sophie starts taking down dictation from the commandant.  She learns that the commandant and his family are being transferred from Auschwitz. 

Sophie starts winning over the commandant.  She then show him an article written by her father in an anti-Semitic tone.  She says that they made a mistake in putting her here is Auschwitz.  She adds that she was an active campaigner in the sacred war against the Jews.  The commandant replies:  "You forget you are a Pole and, therefore, an enemy of the Reich and that you always will be even if you are not guilty of a crime."  But, then again, Sophie looks Aryan and the commandant likes the way she looks. He gives her a kiss.  He get interrupted by a question brought by a guard for the commandant.  When he comes back to Sophie, he says since he is leaving Auschwitz, he will send her to block three.  Now Sophie asks him to release her 10-year old son Jan from the kinderlager.  He says no, so she says then transfer her son to the Lebensborn program as a good German child.  The commandant gives in to her pleadings and says he will make the arrangements. 

Sophie takes the radio for the daughter's room.  The little girl catches Sophie and says that she will tell her father.  Sophie pretends to faint and throws herself on the floor.  The girl gets some smelling salts to awaken the servant.  The girl starts seeing Sophie as part human.  She says that Sophie is very pretty and her mother thinks the servant is Swedish. And now the girl wants to show Sophie her album dealing with her swimming meets. 

Sophie says to Stingo that Hoess didn't keep his word and she never knew what happened to her son.  And that's why she didn't want to live anymore.  Then Nathan came and made her live for him.  Sting goes over to her and hugs her.  He asks Sophie to live for him.  They gradually fall asleep. 

Now Nathan and Sophie move back into the pink house. 

Nathan's brother Larry telephones Stingo and asks him to come over to his house.  Stingo goes.  He tells Stingo that Nathan is only masquerading as a biologist.  "The truth is he's quite mad."  He's a paranoid schizophrenic.  Stingo asks how he could be of help?  Larry says Nathan would be so much better if he could stay away the drugs Benzedrine and cocaine.  So, Larry wants Stingo to periodically give him a progress report on Nathan. 

Nathan and Sophie dress up like Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara and surprise Stingo.  They say they are planning to take a trip to Dixieland and then get married down there.  Stingo would come along with them as Nathan's best man.  He gets down on one knee and asks Sophie for her hand in marriage.  He then puts a ring on her finger.  Sophie is very happy about this.  Later Nathan gives a gift to Stingo.  It's a gift of quite a bit of money.  At first Stingo rejects the gift, but then Nathan tells him not to. 

The landlady tells Stingo that Nathan told her that he and his team discovered a cure for polio.  Then another person tells Stingo that Nathan was looking for Stingo.  He was saying something about settling up accounts with Stingo. 

Later Nathan calls Stingo on the telephone and says:  "God damn you to hell forever."  Now Sophie comes in telling Stingo that Nathan as a gun and she thinks he's going to use it.  Nathan calls again and tells Stingo that he was betrayed by Stingo because he was having sex with Sophie.  He tells Stingo to wait right there for he's coming to get him and Sophie. 

Sophie and Stingo are on a train.  She says she should have stayed there and help Nathan, but Stingo says that Nathan would probably have killed them both. 

Sophie and Stingo stay in a hotel in Washington, D. C.  He says he will show Sophie the sites of the city.  Stingo now tells her that he wants to marry her.  She is doubtful but does say they could live on the farm for awhile.  She says they don't have to think about marriage right away, but Stingo says that if she as he were going to stay in the little town where the farm is, then they would have to be married.  Otherwise, it would cause a scandal in the local community.

Now Sophie says she's going  to tell Stingo something she has never told anybody. 

It was springtime when the reached Auschwitz.  The night was warm.  The commandant came over to her with her two boys.  He tells her that she is beautiful and he would like to get her in bed.  He asks her some questions about herself, but when she stays quiet, he starts walking away from her.  She the shouts to him that she is Polish and Christian and neither of her children are Jewish.  So commander says she can keep only one of her children.  She says she can't choose between her children.  He tells her to choose or he will send both children over there.  She keeps saying that she can't choose, so the commandant orders his men to take both children away.  Only then does Sophie tell them to take the girl.  A soldier takes the screaming female child away. 

Finished with her story, Sophie says they can go to the farm, but Stingo must not talk about marriage and children.  At night they kiss and hug each other in the bed. 

As narrator, Stingo says:  "I was 22 and a virgin and was clasping in my arms at last the goddess of my unending fantasies.  My lust was inexhaustible.  Sophie's lust was both a plunge into carnal oblivion and a flight from memory and grief    More than that, I now see, it was a frantic attempt to beat back death."

Sophie writes:  "My dearest Stingo, you are such a beautiful lover.  I had to leave and forgive me for not saying goodbye, but I must go back to Nathan.  Believe me, you will find some wonderful woman to make you happy on that farm, but when I walk, I was feeling so terrible and in despair about the night time.  By that I mean so filled with guilt, thoughts of death, it was like ice flowing in my blood.  So, I must be with Nathan again for whatever that means.  I may not see you again.  But do believe me how much knowing you has meant to me.  You are a great lover, Stingo.  Sophie."

Nathan wound up killing himself with cyanide.  Stingo is there in the crowd.  He goes inside the house and sees Larry, who takes him upstairs.  With him in bed is the deceased Sophie.  Stingo is very upset at the sight.

Stingo:  "And so ended my voyage of discovery in a place as strange as Brooklyn.  I let go the rage and sorrow for Sophie and Nathan and for the many others who were but a few of the butchered and martyred children of the earth.  When I could finally see again, I saw the first rays of daylight reflected in the murky river.  This was not Judgment Day, only morning, morning excellent and fair."