Review No. 494
Atmospherically, it’s a wedding juxtaposed against a funeral.
DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE. PRODUCED BY BARBARA DE FINA AND BRUCE S. PUSTIN. SCREENPLAY BY SCORSESE AND JAY COCKS. BASED ON “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” BY EDITH WHARTON. NARRATED BY JOANNE WOODWARD. STARRING DANIEL DAY-LEWIS (NEWLAND ARCHER), MICHELLE PFEIFFER (COUNTESS ELLEN OLENSKA), AND WINONA RYDER (MAY WELLAND). ALSO STARRING ALEXIS SMITH, GERALDINE CHAPLIN, MARY BETH HURT, ALEC McCOWEN, RICHARD E. GRANT, MIRIAM MARGOLYES, ROBERT SEAN LEONARD, SIÂN PHILLIPS, CAROLYN FARINA, JONATHAN PRYCE, MICHAEL GOUGH, NORMAN LLOYD, AND STUART WILSON. FEATURING CAMEO APPEARANCES BY MARTIN SCORSESE, CHARLES SCORSESE, CATHERINE SCORSESE, AND TAMASIN DAY-LEWIS. DISTRIBUTED BY COLUMBIA PICTURES ON OCTOBER 1, 1993. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 2 HOURS, 19 MINUTES. RATED PG BY THE MPAA, FOR THEMATIC ELEMENTS AND SOME MILD LANGUAGE.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 6, 2013.
“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” –Martin Scorsese
It may seem like a cliché, as a drama about love, death, marriage, divorce, and infidelity. But if there is such a thing as a “sophisticated soap opera,” it’s The Age of Innocence. At the very least, the 1870s setting allows the aforementioned “soap opera” ideas to unsettle and enthrall the audience, not bore it with gossip.
What we have here is a film from auteur Martin Scorsese, who directed and co-wrote with Jay Cocks. It’s also a brilliant anomaly. I’ve seen his entire oeuvre, save for Bringing Out the Dead (1999) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and not once have I noticed what he does with his characters here. Rather than giving them intrigue by getting under their skulls, Scorsese has made them intriguing with mysterious personalities. The Age of Innocence is a romance, but that there’s always a character hiding something, provides the tale with ominous, suspenseful undertones. The cast represents this flawlessly: Daniel Day-Lewis as a quiet, reserved lawyer; Michelle Pfeiffer as a Polish Countess with a femme fatale persona; Winona Ryder as the leading male’s naïve and outgoing fiancée. It’s atmospherically a wedding juxtaposed against a funeral.
I was dreading The Age of Innocence, to be fairly honest. The film is based on a book by Edith Wharton, which concerned me greatly. I’d read her Ethan Frome last year. Basically, a book about a guy who’s sick and tired of his wife’s attempts to use hypochondria to get his attention, so he abandons her for his mistress. It’s a book I couldn’t wait to get finished with; you had to trust that the author was trying to say something important. From the looks of this early-’90s drama, Wharton’s Age of Innocence is completely different. I swore I’d never read another one of her books, but as it turns out, my interest has been piqued ever-so-desperately.
The Age of Innocence is a beautiful movie. The production is much less a movie than it is a stage play, with the commodities of cinema that make it even more majestic. The characters represent people we’d generally hate, but their mysterious, reserved attitudes make them likable. The music is so much like that of Debussy, you wouldn’t believe it’s an original score by Elmer Bernstein. Add in the costume design and you feel like a Reconstruction Era New Yorker dropping in on the story as it happens.