Rewatch confirms what I’ve suspected for awhile: this is Martin Scorsese’s very best movie . . . poor Newland Archer, always thinking he’s the smartest person in the room when in fact he’s the dumbest . . . and what rooms, those sweeping tracking shots, rooms cluttered with objects, the conspicuous wealth of the 1870s, generated on the backs of the wholly absent poor . . . a world of unimaginable riches and power, so seductive, its occupants entirely unaware of its exceptionality: a simple matter of fact that their universe is the way it is because they are destined to lead it, their system of unexpressed rules governing their every motion . . . Archer thinks he understands it, and looks down upon those he doesn’t understand, those poor simple women who lack his self-awareness, his understanding of the ritual . . . his late realizations that not only is he caught in a web of conspiracy, that his darkest secrets are public knowledge and, ultimately, that his apparently vacant wife his a far more deft manipulator of the levers of power than he could ever hope to be . . . Archer ultimately refuses freedom, he’s old-fashioned, preferring to live in his constructed reality (ala Shutter Island or Solaris), lacking the imagination to step outside the social order imposed upon him . . . Day-Lewis and Ryder are brilliant of course: he taking a character that should be insufferable and making him a tragic hero, a foolish, arrogant prig who fails in every pathetic scheme, yet is ultimately almost admirable in his refusal to be anything other than what he is; she hiding May’s depths behind bright eyes and a sunny smile, never cracking but always twisting the knife, bending the world with a will far stronger than Archer can imagine . . . Pfeiffer might be a weak link, saying her lines as if she’s always out of breath, but perhaps that’s just the way Archer sees the Countess, her eyes betray a steeliness and wry arrogance that belies Archer’s view of her as the embodiment of his desires for sex and freedom . . . in a film so much about the unspoken rules and systems that underlie an excess of conversation, actors that play on multiple levels are essential, and no actors contains more multitudes than Daniel Day-Lewis . . . Scorsese captures it all of course, the beauty (that shot of the light house on the shore!), the isolation (that cube mansion in the middle of an undeveloped Manhattan) and the seductive power of the objects that surround them, the food, the cutlery, the hands of stone, such a luscious prison . . . and the dissolves, oh wow, the dissolves . . .

3 thoughts on “A Brief Impression of The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

  1. The Age of Innocence is breathtaking. The Opera scene, that carriage scene, the last scene…such a beautiful film.
    I catch my breath for a moment whenever I Michelle walk across the room in that ravishing red dress and of course, the vision of her standing on the pier in the sunset is how we all wish to be found.
    Great review!


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