The Prince of Tides is a 1991 American romantic drama film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Pat Conroy; the film stars Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. It tells the story of the narrator's struggle to overcome the psychological damage inflicted by his dysfunctional childhood in South Carolina. Streisand directed and produced the film in addition to starring in it. Conroy and
Becky Johnston adapted the screenplay.
Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte), a teacher and football coach from South Carolina, is asked by his mother, Lila, to travel to New York to help his twin sister's psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand), after his sister Savannah's (Melinda Dillon) latest suicide attempt. Tom hates New York but reluctantly accepts, largely to take the opportunity to be alone and away from a life that does not satisfy him. During his initial meetings with Lowenstein, Tom is reluctant to disclose many details of their dysfunctional family's secrets. In flashbacks, Tom relates incidents from his childhood to Lowenstein in hopes of discovering how to save Savannah's life. The Wingo parents were an abusive father and an overly proud, status-hungry mother. The father was a shrimp boat operator and, despite being successful at that profession, spent all of his money on frivolous business pursuits, leaving the family in poverty.
Tom is also torn with his own problems, but hides behind what he calls "the Southern way"; i.e., laughing about everything. For example, his wife Sallie is having an affair and her lover wants to marry her. Tom and Lowenstein begin having feelings for each other. After Tom discovers that she is married to Herbert Woodruff, a famous concert violinist, Lowenstein introduces Tom to her son Bernard (Jason Gould), who is being groomed to become a musician as well but who secretly wants to play football. Tom starts coaching Bernard along with attending sessions with Lowenstein to help his sister. Tom discovers that Savannah has been in such a dissociated state that she even had a different identity, Renata Halpern. As Halpern, she wrote books to disguise the
Savannah side of her troubled life. Tom confronts Lowenstein over not revealing this information before and they argue, during which she throws a dictionary at him. To apologize, she asks him to dinner and their relationship becomes closer.
Tom has a fateful meeting with his mother and stepfather, bringing up painful memories. Tom reveals that, when he was 13 years old, three escaped convicts invaded his home andraped him, along with his mother and sister. His older brother, Luke, killed two of the aggressors with a shotgun, while his mother stabbed the third with a kitchen knife. They buried the bodies beneath the house and never spoke of it again. Tom suffers a mental breakdown, having now let loose a key piece of Savannah's troubled life. After a session of football, Herbert orders Bernard to return to his music lessons and prepare to leave for Tanglewood. Tom is invited to a dinner at Lowenstein's home, along with poets and intellectuals. Herbert is overtly rude and reveals that Tom's sister is in therapy with his wife. Infuriated, Lowenstein voices her suspicions about her husband's affairs. Tom takes Herbert's "million dollar" violin and threatens to throw it off the balcony unless Herbert apologizes.
Tom spends a romantic weekend with Lowenstein at her country house, both already falling in love at this point. Savannah recovers and is released from the hospital. This recovery is due to finally learning about things she has repressed from her childhood, most notably the rapes. Her first suicide attempt at age 13 was after the rapes and murders of the three convicts. Tom then receives a call from his wife who has finally decided she wants him back. He loves Lowenstein and his wife both, but 'has loved his wife longer, not more', he tells Lowenstein. He returns home, not being a man to abandon his wife and three daughters, wishing that two lives could be given to each man and woman. He's happy in his renewed life, after finally working out the traumatic events in his past, thanks to Lowenstein, but thinks of her daily as he reaches the top of the bridge on his drive home from work. Her name comes to him as a kind of prayer, a blessing.
- Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo
- Barbra Streisand as Dr. Susan Lowenstein
- Blythe Danner as Sally Wingo
- Kate Nelligan as Lila Wingo Newbury
- Melinda Dillon as Savannah Wingo
- Jeroen Krabbé as Herbert Woodruff, Lowenstein's husband
- George Carlin as Eddie Detreville, Savannah's homosexual neighbor
- Jason Gould as Bernard Woodruff, Lowenstein's son (and Streisand's real life son with Elliott Gould)
- Brad Sullivan as Henry Wingo