Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sophie's Choice, William Styron (1979)


Film: Universal Pictures, directed by Alan J. Pakula
Sophie's Choice by William Styron is a fictional, but historically based work that describes the unique relationship that ensues after aspiring Southern writer Stingo meets the beautiful Sophie, a Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor and her all-consuming Jewish lover Nathan after settling into Yetta Zimmerman's pink-painted rooming house in Brooklyn. At first, Stingo feels like a fish out of water in his far from home environment, but he finds comfort and inspiration in the company of his two new captivating friends. But as the trio grows tighter, secrets unfold and the painful truth in each of their lives is finally revealed.  Sophie's Choice, as previously stated, is fictional, but all the events that take place are highly plausible, especially because it deals with Sophie's memories of her time at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In all honesty, I've had this book for over a month and I'm just finishing it up now. I was very reluctant to actually get into this novel from the start, not because I was wary of Styron's writing style, but because I had an idea of what it would contain and obviously, of the subject matter. I understood that the novel would be utterly infused with tragedy as well as truth because the Holocaust did in fact occur. Despite how easy it is to look the other way, the Holocaust is an event that needs to be examined from all sides, and Sophie's Choice is a powerful examination of the profound impact that the Holocaust had on those who survived. Sophie's Choice also speaks to how lies can only carry one so far in life and in the world. Eventually, the truth must be revealed because there really is nothing but the truth.

There is one section of this novel that particularly illuminates the deep emotional impact that the Holocaust had on its victims. As Sophie remembers her time in Europe, she notes that she was one of the "lucky ones" or those who were "more privileged" because they had more "desirable" qualities. Initially, Sophie works as a secretary and a translator to Frau H√∂ss. She lives and works as a prisoner in his lodgings, instead of in the main camp (where she is later sent). While working as a secretary, she is nearly raped by the female housekeeper Wilhemine. After the horrible episode, she is naturally shocked and appalled at what has just taken place. But even in all her shock and horror, she must also figure out how this attack will impact her fragile chances of survival. Instead of worrying about herself in terms of she feels, she must worry if others will judge her and blame her for being assaulted. "Was she better off now, after the episode with Wilhemine, or was she in greater peril?" (265).

Typically, after being physically violated, I assume, one does not even consider that it would be to their benefit, but Sophie's world revolves around on the perceptions of others. Her life depends on the whim of another because of course, if her actions align with those more powerful, she can live another stressful day, but if those in control do not approve, she is in real danger. In other words, Sophie is a victim of the assault and a victim of those who dictate her future. She is a victim in a victim's world.

Throughout the novel, more of Sophie's story is revealed as she replaces her lies with pieces of the truth until the audience finally learns her entire history before and after the Holocaust. Readers learn that her family was not perfect and that her father was anti-Semitic. The audience also learns that Sophie is not a hero. She has her imperfections, her flaws and her shortcomings. She does not step out or fight bravely, despite the fact that she had lived with members of the Resistance.

 She is an ordinary woman and yet her complex story is something that needs to be read, just as the Holocaust is something that desperately needs to be remembered for the horror that it was. In this world, so many times, one says "Never again", but when history repeats itself, one must continue their education. One must read and experience these intimate and personal stories. Sophie's story, although fictional, is very real because it is an account of the impact of others' choices on her life. Yes, granted, Sophie made her "Choice", which is noted in the title, but others also made a choice. In the case of the Holocaust, a very poor choice was made, and now one must remember the choices that were made that resulted in the Holocaust and it's prolonging. One can look at statistics and be appalled, but one should also see the emotions that followed the deaths that build up in number when something as horrific as the Holocaust occurs.

Anyway, to wrap this up: I can't say that I loved reading Sophie's Choice, because I really didn't love reading it. It wasn't a joyous, fun experience (obviously), but it was really well-written and it covered important subject matter. Sophie's Choice was also very fascinating because Sophie, the title character, suffered through the Holocaust despite the fact that she wasn't Jewish. Sophie's Choice gave readers a different perspective because I think that so often one focuses on the anti-Semitic aspect of the Holocaust. It is also important to look at the Holocaust from all sides because so many people were impacted and gravely harmed. William Styron's Sophie's Choice is tragic, powerful and touching. It speaks to life and the world as it was and as it still is today. Raging passions and violence still exist, and memories still have the power to haunt for all eternity. One still cries at the death of a loved one. The world is still imperfect. But one still has the power to make change. By reading Sophie's Choice, one truly realizes the impact of a single choice, the time in the world that is left, the tragedy that ensues following immense hatred and the power of compassion.

So as William Styron himself has put it: "A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You live many lives while reading." Highly recommended.

*As for the film version of Sophie's Choice, I will create another post on the comparisons because there is too much to say for right now.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kramer vs. Kramer, Avery Corman (1977)

Film: Columbia Pictures, directed by Robert Benton (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer describes what no couple imagines at the beginning of marriage: divorce. It also describes the very painful happenings that occur post-divorce, especially when a child is involved. In the case of this novel, the situation is still entirely different from the standard. Kramer vs. Kramer  centers on Ted Kramer and his young son Billy after his wife Joanna abruptly leaves the two and moves to California. After Joanna leaves, Ted must find a balance between his social life, his bank account, his high-pressure career and all the while, learning to raise his son by himself. In the beginning, Ted struggles and can't imagine life without Joanna to care for Billy, but over time he learns to appreciate and embrace his new role as a caring and dedicated father. But just as everything seems to be going right, Joanna returns to New York City in search of custody of her 5 year old son causing a passionate custody battle to ensue, which leaves audiences to wonder what the final decision will be and whether it will be the right one. In Kramer vs. Kramer, love really knows no bounds between father and child.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Kramer vs. Kramer. At times, the novel seemed to stretch on forever and it seemed almost too long and detailed. However,  each of the characters and the situations that they were put in seemed timeless and relevant 35 years since it's first publication. This novel's relevancy is probably what is most enjoyable about reading Kramer vs. Kramer. Any of the events which occur in this novel could occur today with only a few slight changes. Marriage, love, loss and divorce still occur and somewhere in between it all, there are still child custody battles and what not.

Kramer vs. Kramer also speaks to what love really is and how love has no need to be conventional, standard or so called "normal." Ted learns to love his son, despite the fact that his role (during the late 70's) would have been to spend some occasional time while his wife was out of the house. Ted also learns to love and embrace the changes and struggles that come about, especially when he decides to fight for the custody for his son. He creates a list of Pros and Cons about why keeping Billy would be worth it, and his list of Cons is much longer than his Pros, but he still chooses to try to keep Billy with him. As for other kinds of love in Kramer vs. Kramer, it is evident that Ted still loves Joanna in some way, which makes reading the novel all the more painful and important because one realizes that love lingers even after divorce.

Kramer vs. Kramer is surprisingly insightful, touching and even humorous. As a reader, one feels connected to the characters because they are surely a reflection of the people who surround us in some way or another. This novel is at times tedious and slow, but the overall effect of the novel is quite nice because it speaks to real life and real problems that many people are surely facing. It isn't over dramatic, but rather it is even over realistic because it deals with relationships and illustrates how all things must change eventually. I would recommend this novel, despite its flaws.

In comparison to the film adaption, the novel was rather different. First of all, the timing is different. The novel goes into more depth (obviously) and it describes Ted and Joanna's relationship before and after Billy is born. It describes their first meeting and the birth of their son. It also explores Joanna's feeling and thoughts as she raises Billy in the early years. In other words, the novel gives the audience a more comprehensive look at the marriage and it's subsequent break-down following the first few years of Billy's life. In addition, in the film, Joanna comes back seeking custody of Billy, about 15 months later after she leaves. In the novel, Joanna returns a few years later. In the film, Meryl Streep portrays Joanna, while Dustin Hoffman plays her ex-husband Ted. (On a side note, Joanna has black hair in the novel, and blonde hair in the film.) The novel also had a much slower pace in comparison to the movie. For example, in the movie Ted loses one job and then gets another. In the film, Ted loses two jobs until he finds a third in time for the custody battle.

 This seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but how much time you want to invest in Kramer vs. Kramer should dictate whether you want to read the book or simply watch the movie (if you are at all interested). Of course, you could always read the book and watch the movie, but I digress...The film is much different from the book in terms of timing and how the relationship is shown. The book gives a more in depth look at everything sometimes to the point of one's boredom. On the other hand, the film is much quicker, but in the end, one might want something more. The film also ends slightly differently than the novel. (I prefer the film's ending). I recommend both the film and the book, but I suggest reading the book first.

*Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman and director Robert Benton each received an Oscar for this film.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hope Springs, screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (2012)

Okay, so I know what your thinking, since you are one of my many faithful, dedicated readers. I'm sure you're thinking "Oh gosh, [fill in my name], I can't believe that you are once again, straying away from the purpose of this blog!" Which, as you know, (being that you are so dedicated), is to write reviews of books that have been turned into Meryl Streep movies. But being the intense Meryl Streep fan that I am, I have just gone to see this new movie and I felt compelled to write down my thoughts on the matter.
But have no fear! I am currently working on two new relevant books to review. I have already finished reading Sophie's Choice and I'm nearly finished with Kramer vs. Kramer. So you, (you are out there, right? Somewhere?) can expect to be reading two new reviews that actually pertain to my original goal. So after that extremely long tangine, here we go!

I actually enjoyed Hope Springs, which seeing as I am a Streeper, you can imagine that I would enjoy a Meryl Streep movie. But in all honesty, I thought the movie itself was pretty good. In fact, I may go see it a second time. It wasn't a perfect, seamless, flawless movie for sure, but I found it quite enjoyable.
Naturally, the movie also had some awkward moments, but I suppose they are impossible to avoid especially when the entire movie centers around a older couple having marital and sexual problems. In case you are unaware of what you can expect from this movie, it's basically about an older couple that attends a week of intense couples therapy in Maine. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as Kay and Arnold Soames, while Steve Carell portrays their therapist.

Overall the movie had a good overall message and it was most definitely a departure from what Hollywood normally presents to its audiences. And because it was a departure from "normality", so to speak, it could have been a total failure, because as I'm sure many people know, nothing is perfect. When you are leaving anything, in this case, the realm of what is accepted in main stream culture, things can go wrong.
 But luckily, the movie was charming and cute and it spoke to some important issues that I'm sure many people must deal with in relationships. Speaking of the issues that it raised, not many main stream movies these days involve older couples as the center focus. Although last night, at the movie theater, I was outnumbered by older people, I think the Hope Springs has universal appeal because it deals with relationships and the boredom that one surely encounters as time passes. Despite the fact that I'm sure teenagers aren't lining up to see this movie, it speaks to what we all will encounter sooner or later: love, loss and forgetfulness.

Specifically, the acting in the movie was pretty good, although probably not Oscar-worthy. It was nice to see Steve Carell in a movie, although the only other work that I've seen him in is The Office, so it was strange to see him being so serious. And of course, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones were cute and they had good chemistry and all that. I didn't particularly care for the music in the movie, but I can bear with strange musical interludes as long of the rest of the movie is okay.

All in all, Hope Springs  was very cute with great acting and a well-executed theme. It did have it have its flaws and there were some areas that could have been added to or refined. But I recommend seeing the movie, except for the fact that movie tickets are so expensive! ($10, granted I forgot my student ID once again...)