An Alan J. Pakula film; distributed by Universal Pictures.

Evangelicals in the West have been given, of late, to morbid eschatological musings on tribulation and the persecution of the church. That the blood of the saints will flow is a collective vision clearly seen. What we often fail to see is that there are some things worse than even the most painful death. Few people who talk glibly of self-sacrifice have ever been faced with the terrible options of survival, where choices are narrowed to two thoroughly unacceptable evils. Sophie’s Choice is the story of one such survivor, and the men in her orbit. Having lived through the cruelty of the Nazi Holocaust, Sophie remains history’s prisoner, forever impaled on the barbed wire that crowns the gates of Auschwitz where she made her horrible choice—and lived.

Sophie’s Choice is a devastating study of guilt and responsibility. Faithful to Thomas Styron’s novel, the journey into the tortured soul of a concentration camp victim is seen through the eyes of Stingo, a young, naïve Southern novelist. His rural innocence is a sublime counterpoint to Sophie’s vivacious personality; together they form a perfect mercurial triangle with Nathan, Sophie’s brooding lover. As Stingo uncovers the lies that enable Sophie to live with her past, he discovers how far a person will go to avoid extinction—and how impossible it is to escape the consequences of past decisions.

Director Alan Pakula has welded his small cast into a superb unit, but shining above them all is Meryl Streep. She is possessed by her role, her gaunt but beautiful face a window into the soul of an astoundingly complex character.

This film is a profound study of human motivation, of our innate need for atonement. Hopelessness drives Sophie both to embrace the shroud of death that has covered her since her escape from Auschwitz, and to achieve a sense of redemption for her sin of survival—outliving one’s children being a crime against nature. Returning to an insane Nathan, she at last accepts the burden of responsibility she had shunned. In her estrangement from the one true Redeemer, this is all the redemption poor Sophie could hope for.

Reviewed by Harry M. Cheney, a writer living in Southern California.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.