Although Martin Scorcese does not sound like the logical choice to direct an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel about manners and morals in New York’s society in the 1980’s the psychological violence inflicted between characters is at least as damaging as the physical violence perpetrated by Scorcese’s usual gangsters. Martin Scorcese has made a reputation of conveying the essence of the human spirit through visuals and vivid colors. His work in “The Age of Innocence’ is no different. Scorcese closely observed the tiny details of the world and the impossible situation within the novel. The film stays remarkable true to the Wharton novel, fleshing out details and bringing the permeating emotion and atmosphere to life with exquisite cinematography, directing and acting. With the lush opening credits, a collage of flowers and lace, Scorcese seems to be parting the curtain so that the viewer may glimpse not only into the excess of adornment but also into the well-to-do intimacies of New York.
From here Scorcese directed the viewer into the beautiful photography of the drawing room and ballroom were composed and performed just as Wharton herself was the director. The passion that is displayed throughout the film was not of naked bodies thrashing in sweaty passion but where every one was fully clothed and speaking in perfectly modulated phrases. It was as if they were wrapped in layers of “Victorian repression.’ Although Scorcese is known for his “restless camera,’ here he gave the impression of grace and stateliness. The camera is Meek, 2 incessantly moving probing its way into every conversation like an uninvited guest. In one scene Ellen admires a bouquet of yellow roses sent to her by Archer while the camera circles rhapsodically around her. This is a prime example of how the camera is never still yet necessarily shifting.
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Unusual little tricks such as focusing and light or color changes serve to add extra emotional and romantic tension to the action. Scorcese captures the rhythm and style of the culture. Scorcese worked the camera in such a way that although at the beginning of the film their world seemed almost foreign to us by the end the viewer realizes that these people have all the same emotions, passions, fears, and desires that every person does. It is simply that they value them more highly and are less careless with them.
Only, these characters would not choose a moment of self-indulgence over a lifetime of romantic regret. A line that sums this up perfectly is; “What if the thing you desire most is the one thing you can not have? Which would you betray- your whole world, or your heart?’ Scorcese’s depiction of Newland and Olenska’s feelings is completely summed up in this one statement. Scorcese also focuses on physical objects such as white gloves and place settings. They are in this world the most important things. From the beginning Scorcese made sure that the viewer got to know the characters by scanning over the opera audience’s heads. He gives the viewer the close ups of the adornments that women and men wore in the 1820’s.
Later, we are shown a dinner scene where Scorcese lingers over the perfectly arranged plates of food and meticulously designed floral bouquets. This may have been an overstatement but Scorcese saw it as the setup to a love story that needed careful Meek, 3 attention to detail. The reason we are give such detail is that the world in which Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer live knows nothing more of importance than your houses interior decoration. The set in “The Age of Innocence’ marks one obsessed with detail and heavily marked with the Victorian period. Each room seemed overstuffed with decorations and the walls covered with numerous paintings. This not only fit the time period but it also gave the viewer the impression that Ellen and Newland were never alone.
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The paintings especially seemed to loom over them with a careful gaze. This also ties in with the reason Ellen took all the paintings in her house down and had them stacked against one another. These paintings were done by Trubetzkoy Paintings Ltd. , a small business in New York, Connecticut and Paris, which makes high quality reproductions of paintings. The way the company processes these paintings is that an 8-by-10-color transparency is transferred onto canvas where 25 hours of real brushwork with acrylic paint is added. The 200 plus paintings, worked on by mostly women, were finished in two short months for a sum of $200, 000.
Scorcese did not give into what the movie audience longs for; the coming together of Archer and Olenska. Although divorce was completely allowable in New York at that time there was a certain amount of shame that came along with it. There is an even deeper hurt here because the lovers are conspired against to prevent what the conspirators realize is much more than a flirtation. Archer discovers this at the farewell dinner given for Olenska and is forced to deal with his own lack of courage. Again later, makes his second decision not to follow through and walks away from Ellen’s home with his cane Meek, 4 as his only fortitude. Another attribute of the screenplay was the narration.
He replayed the novel’s omniscient voice by casting Joanne Woodward was the narrator. She understands all that is happening and guided the viewer through the private thoughts of some of the characters. Through them we learn the rules of the society, we meet the orchestrators of the city and find out the rigid code that governs how people talk, walk, dine, fall in love, and marry. Not a word of this code is written but the characters have been silent students since birth.
The narrator’s story and her voice are powerful and tempered with the incredible inflections that hint at the deeper meanings. Filling the costumes for “The Age of Innocence’ is no easy task. Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer is living in a world full of compromises. He mastered the role of the man torn between two women and even made it appear easy. He had the same pompous arrogance that Wharton intended for the character. He was so restrained and ruled by society that all of his fantasies about change were ironic.
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Michelle Pfeffer is the strongest presence throughout the film. A figure of social revolution she is also na? ve in matters of social decorum yet wise in the rules of unconventional love. Winona Ryder as May Welland is simply remarkable. She seems to come off as the intellectual inferior that Archer makes her out to be only to later tear off the fa? ade and show the intellectually refined woman she really is.
She plays the representation of the society that Ellen and Archer are trapped in. She knows the rules of the game as if she had invented them herself. And uses any device to make sure everything turns out her way. She is passive aggressive and plays the role her husband Meek, 5 expects her to play.
Ryder fulfills her role perfectly and proved to be as deft and decisive as her female rival. Through this role Ryder won a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a supporting role and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category. Scorcese did a miraculous job with this novel. He presented a graceful film that balances deceit, forbidden love, scandal, passion and intrigue.
This film wonderfully depicts the falling of tradition and the opening of modernity in the lives of three people and their vicious backstabbing families.