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Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol Honor the 40th Anniversary of ‘Sophie’s Choice’: ‘It Is as Relevant as Ever’

Like much better dressed students, Ethan Hawke, Cate Blanchett, Claire Danes, Holland Taylor and Sarita Choudhury filed into the basement theater at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday to honor an acting legend. It was the fortieth anniversary of “Sophie’s Choice,” the movie that helped launch Meryl Streep into the cinematic firmament. It was a role that she campaigned for, learned to speak note-perfect German and Polish for and, somehow, managed to completely transform into another person for, in this case a refuge who can’t escape the horrors of the Holocaust even as she tries to establish a new life for herself in Brooklyn.

And there Streep was, flanked by her co-stars Peter MacNicol and Kevin Kline, to reminisce about making the movie and to honor their late collaborators. It was a trio of fallen friends that included Alan J. Pakula, the film’s director, producer and writer, William Styron, the novelist who dreamed up Sophie, and Nestor Almendros, the cinematographer who battled back blindness to fill the frames with moody blue shading and autumnal hues.

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“We’re the only ones still standing,” Streep noted, as she gestured to Kline and MacNicol. “The visionaries who birthed ‘Sophie’s Choice’ are not.”

Ethan Hawke and Cate Blanchett at a Special Screening of “Sophie's Choice” held at The Museum of Modern Art on February 6, 2024 in New York, New York.
Ethan Hawke and Cate Blanchett at a Special Screening of “Sophie’s Choice” held at The Museum of Modern Art on February 6, 2024 in New York, New York.

Pakula, who died in a car accident in 1998, used to urge his young cast to give their best work in every scene that they performed. “Something he always said was, ‘deny me none of your riches,'” MacNicol remembered. “Well, I hope we did him justice and you.”

MacNicol also shared how Almendros’ eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he wore “Coke bottle” thick glasses and was legally blind. And yet, MacNicol said, he never lost his “real eye for beauty.”

As for Kline, he declared “Sophie’s Choice,” which marked his film debut, “the most joyous, the most creative experience of my entire career.” And he noted that at a moment where authoritarianism is on the rise and anti-Semitism and bigotry are being displayed more flagrantly, “Sophie’s Choice” and its look at three people trying to re-emerge after a historical cataclysm has troubling modern-day parallels.

“It is as relevant as ever if you look at the themes that are woven through it, both in the novel and the film, of societal and moral complacency, of complicity and self-preservation and the ever-persistent, enduring presence of absolute, pure evil in the world,” Kline said, before adding, “So, enjoy!”

Claire Danes and Rupert Friend at a Special Screening of “Sophie's Choice” held at The Museum of Modern Art on February 6, 2024 in New York, New York.
Claire Danes and Rupert Friend at a Special Screening of “Sophie’s Choice” held at The Museum of Modern Art on February 6, 2024 in New York, New York.

After the screening, the A-list crowd, some still visibly moved by the tragic story, re-assembled at the Baccarat Hotel to fortify themselves with cocktails. The evening also marked the post-pandemic return of Alan Pepe Communications’ retrospective screening events.

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