The Quarantine Stream: ‘The Age of Innocence’ is a Reminder that Martin Scorsese Makes More than Mob Movies

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(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: The Age of Innocence

Where You Can Stream It: The Criterion Channel

The Pitch: In 19th Century New York, high society lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is engaged to marry the young, sweet May Welland (Winona Ryder). But Archer’s entire world is thrown into upheaval when he finds himself falling in love with May’s recently divorced cousin Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Why It’s Essential Quarantine ViewingThe Age of Innocence burns with passion, and features moments that will make your heart catch in your throat when it’s not pounding in your chest. In other words, it’s a gorgeous distraction from our current waking nightmare.

Martin Scorsese often gets accused of making only mob movies. It’s a frustrating, ignorant, baseless accusation, and nothing disproves it more than The Age of Innocence, Scorsese’s 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel. No one gets whacked here. There are no tough guys, or needle-drops, or close-ups of delicious Italian food. Instead, The Age of Innocence focuses on reserved, quiet, high-society types. And yet, curiously enough, Scorsese once called this the most violent movie he ever made.

“What has always stuck in my head is the brutality under the manners,” the filmmaker told Roger Ebert. “People hide what they mean under the surface of language in the subculture I was around when I grew up in Little Italy, when somebody was killed, there was a finality to it. It was usually done by the hands of a friend. And in a funny way, it was almost like ritualistic slaughter, a sacrifice. But New York society in the 1870s didn’t have that. It was so cold-blooded. I don’t know which is preferable.”

The Age of Innocence is all about people caught in societal traps. Archer wants nothing more than to throw off the shackles of his (very privileged) life and be with Ellen – but he can’t, because he’s betrothed to Ellen’s cousin, May. And Ellen, having recently been divorced, is shunned by high society circles. And then there’s May, who seems perfectly sweet, and nice, and yet Archer feels nothing for her.

Scorsese follows these characters throughout the years, using narration pulled directly from Wharton’s prose, to stage a portrait of love, lust, and regret. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus captures all of the lush, ornate period details to perfection, while Scorsese employes techniques that will put his “He only makes mob movies!” critics to shame. This may not be Scorsese’s best movie, but it’s damn near close.

The post The Quarantine Stream: ‘The Age of Innocence’ is a Reminder that Martin Scorsese Makes More than Mob Movies appeared first on /Film.

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