Doomed love stories make for the Art of Piercing. Or that we have been told and fed through pop culture for years. Edith Wharton has occasional tiredness, but the mostly beautiful book The Age of Innocence is an example, and so has the film adaptation of Hollywood veteran Martin Scorsese. What makes this elusive souls’ cosmic story so interesting is its treatment by the acclaimed filmmaker, known mostly for stopping hard-hitting and realistic crime dramas. So it was a complete experiment for both the director and his audience to see Scorsese as a dabble in the romance genre, and that too romance. In 2020, almost three decades after its release, I am still writing about the film, should you tell me something about its relevance.
This is 19th-century New York. Newland Archer, the wealthy lawyer of the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis, is set to tie the knot with beloved socialite May Wayland (played brilliantly by the beautiful Winona Ryder). However, his eyes and heart begin to wander once May’s stunning cousin Ellen Olenska (a charismatic Michelle Fifer) arrives in the city. Surprised by Archer’s circle and his own animal companion, Ellen finds comfort in Archer’s welcome. And when someone cares about each other for social boundaries, there is a way to make things uncomfortable for lovers who have passion in society.
One wonders, ‘Why would Martin Scorsese ever adopt a classic romantic novel?’ I definitely backtracked a bit when I first found out about it. And even more so when I finally saw the film. It was said very softly, with painstaking precision and warm feelings. It was not a cold, harsh and gritty cinema that people often associate with the film Maestro. So did he take the project? Thankfully, the late film critic Roger Ebert asked him this question. Scorsese did not consider The Age of Innocence any different from his other gangster films. The director told Ebert, “What has always stuck in my head is cruelty under etiquette. People hide the meaning they have under the surface of language. When I was raised in Little Italy, I was around in subculture, when someone was killed, there was a final state for it. This was usually done through the hands of a friend. And jokingly, it was almost like ritual slaughter, a sacrifice. But New York society was not so in the 1870s. It was so cold blooded. I don’t know which is better. “
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Is attracting attention to direction and detail. Scorsese is a master at capturing the spirit of both Chetan and inanimate subjects. Everything seems clear under his lens, even New York City. But there is a big issue in terms of engagement. Despite the familiar story and the winning performances by the cast, the film seems endless. Not in a good way. It gets caught in high-level matchmaking and forgets itself and its plot in between. It is then that the main chemistry comes to the rescue. The skills of Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer are their sharpest and they really make you root for their lost, forbidden love. Sparkle makes the two characters feel in each other’s company. It reaches out and destroys you too, if only for a moment.
You can watch The Age of Innocence on Netflix.