Sophie and the Rising Sun
It’s rare to find something simple. Something quiet.
I’m sick of movies where there is so much going on that it’s confusing. I find that films often move too quickly for me to process what’s happening, which annoys me immensely. It also annoys my partner, who’s constantly having to say, in a weary tone, “We’re watching the same movie. I don’t know any better than you what’s going on”.
Not Sophie and the Rising Sun. That sun was rising quite slowly indeed. To the point where I found myself reaching for my phone to distract myself. It’s not that it was boring. It was just slow-paced, which I think I am (and probably we, as a society are) less and less used to.
When I realized what I was doing, I put away my phone and decided to make an effort to chill out and let the movie engulf me… and it did. It drew me in with its meandering Southern Carolina creek. With the Southern American accents dripping with drawl.
Only one thing happened at a time – like it did in 1941, when Sophie and the Rising Sun is set.
Sophie Willis (Julianne Nicholson, Law and Order, August: Osage County) is fishing for crabs in Salty Creek, South Carolina, in her denim overalls and wide-brimmed hat.
And then she is walking home with the crabs she has caught in her knapsack.
And then she puts them out for sale in her backyard so the townsfolk can come by and take one and put money in the basket.
And then she gets changed and starts painting.
… and so on.
Everything felt like it was in such sharp focus. I was entranced.
The turning point of the story comes when an injured Japanese man Grover Ohta, played by Takashi Yamaguchi (Letters from Iwo Jima, The 8th Samurai), is found by some locals on a bench in the middle of town. Of course, this is a huge event for the quiet town. Local authorities get involved, asking one of the women, Anne Morrison (Margo Martindale, The Hours, Million Dollar Baby) to take the mysterious, wounded man in, and nurse him back to health. Sophie is one of Anne’s best friends, and spends a lot of time painting in Anne’s idyllic garden, getting to know Grover over the course of his recovery. Grover is also a painter, and pretty soon Sophie and he are painting together regularly, and falling for each other.
The only problem is – them being together would be scandalous even if it weren’t for the war. Even though Grover was born in California, he is considered by locals a “colored”, and an outcast. On the other hand, Sophie is a “well raised American Christian woman”. When Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941, the already wary locals become hostile towards Grover. It also further increases the forbidden nature of their relationship.
I won’t give away any more.
The racism towards the Japanese and African Americans was hard to swallow. I think that’s part of what continued to captivate me. Examples of racism like this make me angry and restless. It’s one thing to know that racism then and now exists, it’s another thing entirely to see it play out in a story with very real characters. It connected me to Sophie, too, when I saw that even though her community had tried to shape her into a racist person, deep down she had none of that in her. Flashbacks showed her being scolded for playing with her best friend as a child: her best friend was black. It separated her from everyone else and made her so much more likable.
The camerawork is gorgeous. Director, Maggie Greenwald (Songcatcher, The Ballad of Little Jo) creates slow-moving, focused close-ups of the rolling water in the creek that soothed me. Anne’s garden, alight with colorful blooms, is captured in the lazy pan of the camera. The shots are detail oriented, catching the flick of a heron’s foot as it flies away, and lingering, staying a moment longer on Sophie’s face. Lighting up the tiny blonde hairs on her upper lip in the afternoon sun.
The soundtrack, made up mostly of dulcet violin and other strings, gives the Sophie and the Rising Sun a sort of aching beauty that wouldn’t be as strong without the music. It gives a kind of depth to the simplicity.
My partner had a succinct and on point summary after watching with me (yes, he actually watched the whole thing with me!), “heartwarming and shocking at the same time, with small doses of tasteful humor in the mix”.
If you love action-packed, suspenseful, fast-paced movies, I wouldn’t recommend Sophie and the Rising Sun. But if you’re interested in a bit of quiet, aching beauty, then this for you.