Summary of the Movie "Sophie's Choice"

by Lawrence Koenig

The 1982 movie "Sophie's Choice," taken from William Styron's 1979 semiautobiographical novel by the same title, revolves around themes of loss and deception and the difficult choices that we must make about our lives. Drawing on Styron's life as an author and the aftermath of the Holocaust, "Sophie's Choice" follows three troubled characters and their tragic circumstances.

Principal Characters

Stingo, a Southerner who recently lost his job, moves into a cheap boardinghouse in 1947 Brooklyn and meets two of his fellow boarders, the schizophrenic Nathan and a beautiful Polish non-Jewish Holocaust survivor named Sophie. Nathan and Sophie are a couple, but neither Stingo nor Sophie realize that Nathan is very mentally ill. Stingo is played by Peter MacNicol, Kevin Kline plays Nathan and Meryl Streep is Sophie. Most of the film is told from Stingo's point of view, with a brief flashback into Sophie's life in Auschwitz.

Main Plot

"Sophie's Choice" -- for most of the film -- seems to be dominated by the question of whether or not Sophie will choose between the poor yet stable and loving Stingo, or the unbalanced Nathan who self-medicates himself with cocaine he obtains through his job at a pharmacological company. He has told Sophie and Stingo he is a researcher there, but that is only partially true. Sophie spends most of the film telling Stingo about her past in intimate detail, while trying to hang onto a relationship with the unstable Nathan. Eventually, Nathan's mood swings and erratic violent behavior cause Stingo and Sophie to flee to Virginia.


When Stingo and Sophie flee to Stingo's family farm, Sophie and Stingo consummate their relationship, as Stingo loses his virginity. Afterward, Sophie reveals to Stingo her darkest and most troubling secret: Upon arrival at Auschwitz, a sadistic Nazi made her choose which child -- her 7-year-old daughter or her son -- would live and which would die. Her choice has driven her to the brink of madness, as she has become an alcoholic trying to live with the pain of having sent her daughter to the gas chamber. Stingo begins to understand Sophie's self-destructive relationship with Nathan and is horrified at her dilemma.

Conclusion (Spoiler)

The next day, Stingo wakes up to see a note from Sophie telling him that she must be with Nathan. He leaves the farm to follow her back to New York back to the boardinghouse, where he finds that both Nathan and Sophie have committed suicide by ingesting cyanide. Stingo moves on with his life, becomes a successful novelist, and tells the story of himself, Sophie and Nathan. He realizes that because Sophie never learned what became of her son in the camp, and because of the terrible choice she had to make, she could not endure a joyless existence.

About the Author

Lawrence Koenig has been a technical writer since 1988. His expertise includes the U.S. military, hospitality and transportation industries. Koenig holds a Bachelor of Science in literature from Oral Roberts University and he is pursuing a Master of in Education.