The name Martin Scorsese always immediately brings up images from his intense drama features like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. You never expect someone like him to make a tender love story or a children’s film. But he has made them and by doing so, he has continually managed to surprise me and other film-goers who are die-hard fans of his. The Age of Innocence is not a film that people usually bring up when they discuss about Scorsese. Sure, it’s not as “heavy” as his other films but it’s still a solid film in his filmography and one that is worth watching.
The Age of Innocence was adapted from Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel of the same name and revolves around three principal characters – A lawyer named Newland Archer (played by Daniel Day-Lewis), May Welland (played by Winona Ryder), a bubbly socialite to whom Archer is engaged to, and a Countess named Ellen Olenska (played by Michelle Pfeiffer). The story is set in 1870s New York. Archer comes from a wealthy American family and he seems happy now that he is engaged to May. But things change when he comes across her cousin Ellen. Ellen has recently left her husband, a Polish Count who married her only for her wealth. She is seen as something of an outcast in her social circles but has the support of Archer’s family. She doesn’t seem like the kind who is easily affected by others’ opinions of her and this independent and rebellious attitude is admired by Archer. He is also enamored by her beauty. They become romantically involved. Rest assured, this raises the suspicions of May.
If you observe closely, the story has some themes that were present in some other films of Scorsese as well. It examines a narrow-minded New York society in the 1870s and a man’s struggles to break free off the societal chains that he is bound to. Yes, this is completely different from what Scorsese has done before. There are no mafiosos, no gunfights, no murders or bloodshed. But there is violence but it’s more psychological. The protagonist feels crushed by the weight of familial expectations and conventions. It’s a cruel society he is living in – one that is filled with aristocrats who appear polite on the surface, but are first-class hypocrites.
The Age of Innocence is one of the best films about forbidden love and is a vastly underrated work that deserves to be seen more.The grand production design, costumes and colorful photography all bring to mind the films of Max Ophuls and Luschino Visconti. You can sort of call this a Luschino Visconti film made by Scorsese. Scorsese has often mentioned that Visconti’s The Leopard is one of his favorite films and it’s influence here is quite apparent. The film is like a painting in motion. It is beautifully photographed by Michael Ballhaus, who had also worked with Scorsese on Gangs of New York and The Departed.