The Age of Innocence (1993, remake after the 1934 version)
Rating: U (strangely enough in the UK initially but then changed to 15)
The Age of Innocence is based on the classic novel of the same name by Edith Wharton published in 1920 and set in the 1870’s taking an in depth look at the closed nature of high society from the angle of star crossed lovers. It was a very wordy commentary or social discourse yet lent itself extremely well to the individual love story it encapsulated and Martin Scorsese et al managed to convey that exceptionally well onto film. A love triangle starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder portray their characters literally entwined in social and internal struggle, wishing for miracles or contriving situations to make/keep them as they want. The only other classic/period film I would compare the intensity to would be Dangerous Liaisons (1988), another film starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
Interesting note – Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Age of Innocence.
A countess does the unspeakable by leaving her unsavoury husband in Europe and returns to the US. Her arrival causes a stir in the social fabric and most of New York’s society bubble don’t want to be associated with such a woman, she has to go back to him they insist if she wants to keep her social position. She pushes ahead with the divorce and to the surprise of both herself and her lawyer they find themselves falling in love. His background means that he has an engagement practically all settled or at least expected and the bride in waiting has the same burden upon her to marry properly and be a good, seemingly naive and innocent, social butterfly of a wife. To make things worse the two women are cousins and neither the countess or lawyer want to hurt her. That said the lawyer is feeling true love for the first time and only now sees the difference between marriage based on strong love and marriage based on duty and kindness. His intended is also in a quandary, if the engagement is broken off her social chances of being proposed to again will fall dramatically and being a spinster or divorcée is seen as almost the death of a woman next to not procreating, and being married even in a bad marriage is seen as the best path. So unlike him who hopes for the situation to choose for him and intends to do his best either way, she takes things into her own hands in a battle to keep her man but by any means necessary and to keep the secrets as long as possible. The countess however is more mature than the other two and knows that even though we are not always be able to choose who we fall in love with and no matter how much you love them you don’t have to stay with them or try to have/keep them unless in extenuating circumstances. That of course doesn’t mean that there’s no pain and tribulation but she’s already gone against society to fight for her freedom and is a scorned woman so knows that no matter what she can and has to stay strong and do the right thing. She doesn’t want to play the ‘mistress’ but is also torn between being near him and leaving and unfortunately for all her good intentions and actions the wheels/cogs of conspiracy against her and her forbidden love are continuously turning.
Why it’s a Fave
You won’t find many romance driven stories in my favourite films but this film is in a league almost of its own. There’s so much angst, passion, frustration and despair – the atmosphere is thick/heavy with feeling and the visuals are bright, heady, vivid and decadent, all under the sombre narration from passages in the book. Every part of the film is emotive and evocative yet carefully controlled, just as all the characters are puppet like and subject to the strings of their society/culture and social/class status their overwhelming emotions are reigned in tightly yet are portrayed with full force. For example, the height of sexual tension in this film is reached in a scene where only a glove is removed yet it’s an extremely tense part and comparable to the erotic aspirations other films go all the way trying to achieve. I mentioned narration before and as another testament to the expert direction/production of this film it manages to include consistent narration, usually a massive faux pas and seen as defeating the purpose of film, yet here it adds to the already rich content.
This film shows that no matter how much you love somebody and even if they reciprocate, it doesn’t always work out, people and their packs can conspire against you being together and win. Sometimes we are left with our imaginings of what might have been.