Sophie makes many choices in the movie, however, all of them are powerfully influenced by the choice that she is forced to make by the sadistic German officer who will kill both of her children if she does not give one up for certain death right now. It is a heart-wrenching scene---one that tends to create in the viewer a variety of feelings: fear, sorrow, anger.
It is only after she is safe once more, out of the concentration camp, living in a refugee camp in Sweden, that she goes to church and breaks a glass and cuts her wrists as she wants to die---and she wants to do so in God's church because she believes that Christ has turned away from her and killed her loved ones and left her alive. (As we see also in the film Ordinary People, the survivors sometimes feel guilt, feel responsible, feel that somehow, even in the face of the impossible, they should have done more, even if it had cost them their life.)
Because of the pain of her memories, Sophie hides in lies---lies about her father, who was to a degree responsible for what was happening, the man she describes as a civilized man in an uncivilized time. When confronted by Stingo about the lies, Sophie says that she was: "Afraid that I would be alone." She explains to him that: "The truth does not make it easier to understand. I don't even know the truth after all these lies I have told." (Kurt Vonnegut wrote Mother Night---made into a movie with the same title starring Nick Nolte---to help us understand how, when we tell lies, they can distort reality, when we pretend to be someone else, we can become that very person, even when we don't want to……this works negatively in Mother Night, however, it can also work positively.)
Because of the horrific loss of both of her children, a loss in which she could not be with them to comfort them at the end, Sophie is unable to leave Nathan. She would rather die than have him die without her. The memories of the past haunt her present decisions. The depth of guilt is enormous. She tells Stingo that: "It would not be fair to your children to have me as their mother." The sensitive, caring, loving Stingo, still a virgin at age 22, deeply and forever in love with Sophie, who is in her thirties, would do anything for her. Yet he is powerless to help her. In the final scene Nathan and Sophie are dead, however, they are lovingly embracing one another and Emily Dickinson's book of poetry lies on the bed…."Ample make this bed……"
How might we have helped Sophie as well as Nathan?? What if the caring English teacher who reached out to her had been a bit more assertive, then perhaps she would have become attached to a more stable person than Nathan. We can play the "what if" game forever, even going back to her childhood in Poland. However, we do know that Nathan was not the villain in this story. Nathan was a victim also, a victim of a disease that we are not effectively treating even to this day, let alone in 1947 when the story unfolds.
How do we help people deal more effectively, even those with incurable diseases? Well, Freud said that work and love are the greatest forces in terms of mental health. And, work is where most of us spend the largest portion of our efforts in life.
Nathan, ever brilliant since childhood, creative, imaginative…..Nathan held a meaningless job, which he pretended, was a very important research task that would soon lead to his winning the Nobel Prize. Those of us who have worked with the Nathans of the world learned long ago that, if we can give the mentally ill meaningful work opportunities, then they are less likely to exhibit their symptoms.
As Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet:
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret……
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God……
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
Life is about choices…..those you make based on opportunities you create &
…..those you make based on what life offers up to you.
What choices are you creating for yourself???
What choices has life offered up to you and how have you responded to those choices???
At the beginning of the movie we see Stingo making choices. He has chosen to move from the South to New York to begin his career as a writer. He has chosen to live in Brooklyn because the rent is cheaper there…..a hard choice given the enticements of Manhattan!! As he carries in cases of Spam to his new pink room, you understand that he has chosen to eat Spam…..not exactly a delicacy in this culture…..to make the sacrifices he must make in order to devote himself to his writing.
What sacrifices are you prepared to make in order for you to create the opportunities, the choices, that will lead you to an exciting and meaningful career???
Sophie and Nathan give him a gift of a book of poems by Walt Whitman, the poet that many consider to be America's greatest poet. The great poet Emily Dickinson is also quoted in the film. They are trying to tell you that one of the greatest roads to understanding the human condition, to moving toward beauty and away from the ugliness that life can also offer, is to immerse yourself in poetry.
What are you doing to make your life more beautiful, to bring joy and harmony into your daily existence???
Sophie has been in the United States for just six months when the story begins. She thinks that she is dying from cancer. Her wrists bear the scars of her attempt to end her life and on her arm is the ever reminding tattoo number 11379 to ensure that her past will not be easily forgotten. Yet she is not wallowing in her pain, she is going to school and after class goes to the library to learn more about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. No matter how hard life is, no matter what it offers up to you, you still can make choices to continue, to challenge life, to grow under even harsh circumstances.
The young lady that Stingo dates who can "vocalize" four letter words is a funny character. But her psychiatrist, Wilhelm Reich, understood that she had to first start using the words as the road to being more comfortable with the actions.
Thoughts….the words we have in our minds…..influence our Feelings…..which in turn direct our Actions.
Your task is to be aware of how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are inter-related. Who and what are influencing your thoughts???