Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Sophie in “Sophie’s Choice”

Meryl Streep plays the role of Sophie in an adaptation of William Styron's novel, "Sophie's Choice."

Sophie’s Choice (1982) was a movie adaptation of a novel with the same title. It talked of Sophie – the main character, in the perspectives of a confidant and observer – her friend Stingo. Sophie was a Polish survivor from the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War – and her traumatic experiences, including the choices that she had to take brought her in the throes of a passionate love-hate relationship with an equally unstable “biologist,” whom she regarded as her “savior.” Sophie had post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder which had resulted from her sufferings and moral failings, which she perceived as the cause of the atrocities that she had witnessed, perpetrated to the people that she most loved. Her most prominent symptom was that of avoidance; she had repressed all her painful memories in the past, not only in an effort to survive, but more importantly, in a struggle to get over from the guilt that she was experiencing. She tried to numb herself, through a physically dependent and masochistic relationship with her partner, who has been revealed in the latter part of the movie to be a paranoid-schizophrenic.

Sophie did not see herself as a victim of the events that transpired in the camp. Rather, she attributed all her misfortunes to her faulty decisions in life – her refusal to translate Gestapo documents in an effort to save her children, yet was not so, her failure to steal the radio that the Resistance badly needed, and ultimately, her decision of allowing her daughter to be exterminated by the Nazi soldiers in an effort to save her son. Sophie did not recognize the aggression of the larger system which led her into such violent crossroads with both losing ends. She bore all the guilt and the fact the she had been unable to see her only surviving child after the war seemed to her – a testament to the “follies” on her decisions.

Sophie was aware of her problem. She was in fact actively forgetting her guilt through the lies that she concocted. Her lies about her father and her struggle to mask her pains by engaging in a violent relationship proved of her self-reproach. She was aware that years after the war, she was still suffering the agony of the terror of the time when she was led to make a choice. Yet, she did not have the violent enmity that other people would have directed towards the Nazis. She just felt that all of her misfortunes were very much deserved. She received no psychological treatment, only empathetic listening from her friend, Stingo – who was at that time also coping with his own emotional battles.

The Holocaust is a grim period in the history of nations. I believe that Sophie’s character and the movie in itself depicted it appropriately. The Nazis were undeniably guilty of several atrocities to the Jews and to the people who, at the very least were suspected of betraying them. Though filled with complexities and strange turn of events, I believe that Sophie’s character successfully depicted the struggles of one with post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly in the given period. Her final choice – of going back to her partner Nathan and their consequent suicide attempt reflected her final effort of self-recrimination. She did not “atone” in this sense, for in her anxious thoughts, she knew that no action from her was necessary to bring back everything that she had lost. Rather, she punished herself, precisely for this powerlessness, and for a guilt that was so massive, kept on streaming on the surface of her consciousness, in spite of efforts to submerge them through the lies that she had made.


Pakula, Alan (Director and Producer). (1982). Sophie’s Choice. (DVD). Lions Gate

Wilson, John P. (2001). “An Overview of Clinical Considerations and Principles in the Treatment of PTSD.” Treating Psychological Trauma and PTSD. New York: The GuilfordPress


Casablanca, All About Eve and Citizen Kane: A Comparative Film Analysis

image credits to IMDB

Casablanca is a 1942 film set against the backdrop of a chic gambling den and nightclub owned by the cynical Rick Blaine. The atmosphere of the club attracts a variety of clients – characters that became accurate representations of the people in that era. The movie’s lighting was set in high contrast – in order to powerfully depict scenes and set the theme, in accordance to the socio-political events at that time. While All about Eve (1950) maximized the use of lighting effect in order to reveal the audience the entirety of what was happening, Casablanca utilized deliberate lighting – to partially obscure certain incidents and to give the movie the necessary intensity as it progressed. This inventive technique was labeled as film noir, and though several may not agree on classifying Casablanca as a film noir, one could not deny of how the creative use of lighting and shadow further illuminated the course of events in the movie.

Citizen Kane (1941) achieved much acclaim for its lighting technique and was credited as the first film noir. But unlike Citizen Kane, Casablanca did not just use lighting to depict climactic events and highlight the film’s development. All throughout the movie, Casablanca presented an overall dark feel – thereby giving the audience a feeling that something was hidden from them. This effect was credited to Casablanca’s cinematographer Arthur Edeson whose work in the Maltese Falcon (1941) provided much influence to the lighting effects used in Casablanca.

image credits to AFI 100 years100movies

While Citizen Kane (1941) aptly utilized lighting in order to present certain dark and pessimistic aura and appearances of human nature, Casablanca (1942) seemed to have not used this technique. Casablanca did not center its lighting on the plot and key themes – but merely to present an eerie atmosphere – a perfect venue for such characters, who indulge in the dark for the fear of the society – particularly the government’s suspicions. This transformed Casablanca’s cinematography from being a mere lighting and sound technique into an artistic tool. The technique was characterized by low key lighting and stark contrast in order to reflect each character’s toiling for liberty, against danger – both personal and societal, and to obscure their illegal actions. This atmosphere was evidently different from the cinematographic effects in the movie All About Eve. Though All About Eve did not present much socio-political struggle in order to require such mode of lighting, the movie nonetheless depicted Eve Harrington’s cunning exploits in the light – enabling the audience to take a full view of how the seemingly harmless Ms. Eve reveal her true self in the course of the movie. The lighting seemed to have illuminated Eve’s motives – revealing key facial expressions and body languages which may have been missed inappropriately by the audience where the setting may have been effected using low-key lighting.

Nonetheless, Casablanca and All about Eve employed almost the same cinematographic effects to depict the grace and beauty of the female characters. Ilsa Lund – Rick Blaine’s lover in Casablanca was shot in an angle that could give her face certain softness and her eyes with some sparkle – a noticeable contrast against the seeming powerful and tensed shots of the male characters. Eve Herrington in All about Eve was depicted in the same manner – particularly in the first part of the movie, where she presented herself as a passionate and helpless waif, who worships Margo Channing. The same treatment was given to Margo Channing – though in the process of “graceless” aging, was shot exquisitely in a scene where she announced that she is about to be married to her partner Bill Samson.

Similar with Citizen Kane and All about Eve, the sound effects of Casablanca suited just right to depict the climax and the drama in the film and thus created a mood of excitement or melancholy on the part of the audience.

image credits to

Indeed, Casablanca has left a timeless legacy to film – an effective capturing of emotions and aspirations, in a struggle for independence, love, and everything that human beings aspire for.      


All About Eve. Prod: Darryl Zanuck. Dir: Joseph Mankiewicz. Perfs: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm. 1950. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003

Casablanca. Prod: Hal Wallis. Dir: Michael Curtiz. Perfs: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid. 1942. DVD. Warner Home Video. 2008

Citizen Kane. Prod: Orson Welles. Dir: Orson Welles. Perfs: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore. 1941. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2002.

Film Studies Program. Yale Film Studies.YaleUniversity,New Haven. 2002. Accessed 29 January 2010 from