AGE OF INNOCENCE
US, 1993, 138 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard E. Grant, Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Mc Cowan, Mary Beth Hurt, Miriam Margoyles, Stuart Wilson, Sian Philips, Michael Gough, Alexis Smith, Robert Sean Leonard, Jonathan Pryce.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Age of Innocence is an unexpected masterpiece from director Martin Scorsese. It is unexpected because of Scorsese's reputation and skills with the gangster genre including Goodfellas and Casino as well as Gangs of New York. He is also best known for such tough melodramas as Cape Fear.
However, he has presented audiences with an elegant adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel. During the '90s there were many screen adaptations of Edith Wharton's work, including an Ethan Frome with Liam Neeson as well as The House of Mirth with Gillian Anderson. Several mini-series were made from her novels, including The Buccaneers.
Edith Wharton writes of New York in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. She presents a society which is finding its feet while looking overseas for models for elegance and cultural behaviour. Characters are caught up in the double standards of this kind of society, expected to live up to what society demands and easily excluded if they do not.
The film focuses on the central character played by Daniel Day Lewis, his love, his forced marriage, his family and the expectations that society and his business position forced on him. He lives many decades in regret. Characters include the love of his life, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, his daughter, played by Winona Ryder in an Oscar-nominated performance.
The film looks beautifully elegant from its opening as Scorsese's camera roams around an opera house, through the audience as well as backstage, finishing with the cast bowing to the audience. This kind of fluidity means that the audience for the film is taken right into this society, moving comfortable and uncomfortably as one of its characters. Décor and costumes are beautiful and there is a meticulous re-creation of New York and this period.
The film is a thoughtful melodrama, intense psychological drama focusing on Daniel Day Lewis as well as a film full of social comment and critique. It is enhanced by a very large and start cast.
1. The work of Edith Wharton? Screen adaptation of a period novel? American, 19th century?
2. The work of Martin Scorsese? His choice of this project? His interpretation of New York in the 19th century, 20th century perspective?
3. Costumes and decor? The meticulous re-creation of New York and its period? The city itself? The detail of the interiors, the homes, offices, theatre? Detail and style? The attention given to food, flowers, furniture? Wedding gifts? The use of colour - and especially the Iris technique? The musical score? 19th century atmosphere? Opera, songs?
4. The title and its reference to New York in the 19th century? With reference to the 20th? The time period covered by the film? The ironies of the title?
5. The voice-over by Joanne Woodward: the comment, the tone, the descriptions, values and evaluations?
6. The introduction with the opera, the highlighting of the characters, New York itself, New York society? The enclosed world? Their norms, expectations, values? The snobbery of the elite? The formal gatherings, costume? The parties, style and talk?
7. Daniel Day Lewis as Newland Archer? Daniel Day Lewis's performance (in comparison with other performances)? The Archer family, his relationship with his parents, the visits to them, discussions, values, expectations? His work and his lack of enjoyment and satisfaction in it? A repressed gentleman of the period? The contrast with America of the pioneers and the West? Yet the capacity and potential for opening up? His allowing his repression? His relationship with May and the Wellands? His past acquaintance with Ellen? Her return? His sympathy for her, being attracted? The growth into infatuation and love? The contrast with his relationship to May, devotion to her, the plans for her? The planned marriage? Ellen and the dinner and his being supportive of her? The visits, the discussion about the divorce, the advice? Her relationship with Julius Beaufort? The grandmother and her style, her advice? The lavish wedding, the effect on himself, on May? May and her lack of worldliness - yet her being particularly shrewd? The visits to Ellen? Not turning? The rescue? Society presumptions? Ellen leaving and May's reaction? His wanting to tell May the truth? May and her unwillingness to listen to him? Issues of travel, hopes? Doing the right thing? Seeing the lawyer and finding out the appropriate thing to do? His fidelity? The passing of the years, the commonplace life, the repetition of the cycles of New York society? His growing older? Relationship to his children, to his son? His son at work, the new world of New York? The decision to go to Paris? The possibility of seeing Ellen - but his not staying? His disappearance? His disappointment? A man of perpetual good manners, repression, lost potential?
8. Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen? Her screen impact? The focus of Newland Archer's love and obsession? The first impressions, at the theatre? The background of her marriage, living in Europe, her husband, breaking free, the divorce? A woman of the world? The American with the European experience and her impact on proper New York society? Society's reaction to her? The grandmother inviting her to the dinner? The guests' reactions? May and her reaction to Ellen? Newland and the memories of the past when they were children? His attention to her, his growing love, obsession? Her response to this? Her affair with Julius Beaufort? The dinner and her being late? Her visits, her relationship with May? Their friendship - yet May's wariness? Her visits? The place in New York society, especially with Julius Beaufort? Her decision to leave, going to Paris? The meetings with Newland, the emotional impact for herself? The meeting with May? Her going to Paris? As a character in herself? Her frustrated love, her frustrated life?
9. The contrast with Winona Ryder as May? The background of the Wellands, place in society, their wealth? Her relationship to her grandmother? Her optimistic outlook on life? A nice young woman - considerate but in many ways empty-headed? Lacking in emotional depth? Going to the theatre, her fashions, at the meals? The build-up to the wedding and its preparations? Her statements of freedom and her relationship to Newland? Her love for him? Their place in New York society? Her exercise of power over Newland, her pregnancy? The relationship with Ellen, the clash - with good manners? Her victory over Ellen? Her hold over Newland? Newland and his memories of her, discussing her with his son? His faithfulness, her growing older, the pathos of her death? Her knowledge of the truth?
10. The portrait of the grandmother, physically, with her creature comforts, sitting in state? Her influence in the family? Her control? Able to decide who should come to dinner or not? A good woman - earthy? Yet nevertheless the symbol of this kind of society?
11. The portrait of the Wellands? The parents, their manners, May, Newland? The wedding? The family gatherings? The comparison with the Archers? Newland and his relationship with the rest of the family, with his parents? So much of this interaction at meals, social gatherings, theatre, parties? The wedding?
12. Larry and his style, town, society, his influence? The observation on society? The gossip? Larry and his advice, his omnipresence? Confrontations?
13. The Van Der Leydens and their influence? The top of New York society? Their affluence, their manners, their socials? Allowing Ellen to come? Larry and his presence? Newland and the Van Der Leydens and the getting of a place for Ellen in Society?
14. The Beauforts, Julius and his relationship with Ellen? The Victorian cad type? Regina, her relationship with Julius? Her unhappiness? The visit, her grandmother? The relationship with Ellen? Society and reputation?
15. A beautiful world, stylised, theatrical, lavish and affluent, good talk, good manners? But the quality of the society? Interior life? The contrast with Newland's children, more businesslike, more understanding, more human and truthful, more real? A hope for the next generation to be more themselves and to break out of the artificiality of the age of innocence?
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