Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sophie's Choice

I have been stumbling upon too many Meryl Streep movies lately - it appears that she figures in many important ones. That perhaps is explained once you see her act - for she is a graceful actress - a woman with substance and it is hard to shrug her away with decoratory roles.
The latest in the list of her movies that I watched is Sophie's choice, adapted from the famous novel by William Styron. The story is set in Manhattan and centers around a struggling writer (Stingo) and his relationship with a couple - Sophie and Nathan, both of them being a little eccentric and a little esoteric.
Sophie is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and is a non-Jewish Pole, while her lover Nathan is a schizophrenic American Jew. The story moves back and forth in time, narrating Stingo's own experiences, Sophie's memories of her experience in Poland and then Auschwitz, the couples' memories of their encounter and of course the present.

Both the book and the movie are needlessly long. In the book Stingo struggles to keep the focus on himself with his sexual escapades, his fantasies, his life in Southern American and his thoughts, only relating Sophie's stories in the gaps. In the movie, the story continues to move in the present for the longest time, focusing on the strange relationship between Nathan and Sophie and Nathan's unpredictable countenance. Sophie's story begins much later and is over very soon. Her life in the concentration camp is almost glided over when compared to the book.

However in both versions, the crux of the story - that of Sophie's choice comes towards the far end and if I had felt that the book did not do enough justice to the dilemma, I think the cinematographic Sophie made up for this injustice. For even though short, the scene is impactful and splashes a small cold shiver on your spine.

Even with a strong story, I think Styron has messed up a little by trying to put too many words in the same book, but for his verbosity, I believe his book would have been higher than now on the critics list. As for the movie, I think the adaptation is wonderful, especially so because of Streep. Neither Kevin Kline as Nathan, nor Peter Mcnicol as Stingo were too impressive but Streep kept the focus away from them. Her Polish accent was so perfected that even after so many movies from her, I was convinced that she could be Polish. I am a fan.

2 comments:

Alok said...

I have seen only the film which I didn't like much. I agree with you the film was needlessly long, the central event in the story, even though it was somewhat effective, came too late after two hours of mostly repetitive boredom. Meryl Streep is always very good, but even her presence was not enough.

At the end I don't think it says anything meaningful about survivor's guilt and dilemma... it keeps hovering around the same cliches.

on another note, I am surprised you were left underwhelmed by the two Bergman films. I could have asked you to see other films of his but then these two are my favourites and I think his greatest works...!

Madhuri said...

@Alok, I did like Wild Strawberries quite a bit, but I thought 'Persona' was unimpressive. There are a multitude of movies on a personality swap that I have seen before and I thought that Persona did not bring a remarkably different angle or was even interesting. I really am curious to know why people like it so much.