Society scion Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland, but his well-ordered life is upset when he meets May's unconventional cousin, the Countess Olenska. At first, Newland becomes a defender of the Countess, whose separation from her abusive husband makes her a social outcast in the restrictive high society of late-19th Century New York, but he finds in her a companion spirit and they fall in love. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
I have seen "The Age of Innocence" about 15 times since 1994, and find the argument as to whether it is boring or not to be fascinating. Period films are not for everyone, and if you lack an appreciation for subtlety then maybe something like "Joe Dirt" may be better suited for you. But what lies beneath this wonderful movie is a priceless ode to individuality.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Ellen Olenska, a proto-feminist who flees from her failing European marriage to the home of her blood relatives in 1870's New York Society. She's been away for most of her life and the States are foreign to her, but she quickly realizes that she is viewed as threat, a black sheep ---and Society reacts to her as it would to a dirty black spot on a carpet or on one of their tuxedo shirts. "Harmony could be shattered by a whisper", as well narrated by Joanne Woodward.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, an up-and-rising patriarch who sees something in her that no one else in his rich circle could offer him: an independent viewpoint to life. As a lawyer and a powerful member of his family, he bravely tries to protect Ellen from basically everyone, esp. members of their own family. Despite all of her difficulties, Countess Olenska refuses to part from her individuality: she smokes in front of Newland, does not hide from men in social situations, and criticizes her surroundings. Archer doesn't necessarily fall in love with her as a person but with what she represents: Romanticism and escape.
There is a lot to love about this film, which is more like a piece of art than a movie. Every scene and every bit of dialogue denotes elegance and brutality simultaneously. All of the leading and supporting characters are so believable and well formed that they trump anything Hollywood has been throwing at us in recent months. And the setting for this film is very unconventional, at least for the 90's. Through excellent film-making, I can see why Society felt the need to operate in such a ruthless fashion, in order to protect itself from Ellen and what she represented to Newland, its newly crowned prince.
Over the past few months, I have also grown an appreciation for Winona Ryder's performance as May. She is a shrewd politician, who uses her "bright blindness" as a megaphone for Society's rules of conduct, a weapon of manipulation against her destined husband Newland, and as a way to continue plotting without easily being detected.
I wonder how many more times I will watch "The Age of Innocence" before I risk being exposed to Hollywood's 21st century conformity, such as "Independence Day" or "Wild, Wild West". All I know is that Ellen Olenska (as one of my favorite cinematic heroines) serves to validate my own sense of individuality, and neither she nor the astonishing beauty of this Scorcese creation, will ever be boring. 10 out of 10 stars.
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