Rendered with sumptuous, almost painful accuracy, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton, seems at first glance an unlikely venture for relentlessly contemporary New Yorker Martin Scorsese. But its loving exploration of the arcane workings of a closed society, that
of wealthy, well-bred New Yorkers of the 1870s, has more in common than one might expect with Scorsese's earlier work, from MEAN STREETS through GOODFELLAS. Perhaps the film's most remarkable aspect is how alien its underlying assumptions are to a society saturated with "Just Do It!" messages.
Beneath the delineation of manners and mannerisms, the examination of lushly appointed decor and clothing, the evocation of a time and a place lost to the forward rush of history, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE rests on a moral struggle all but impossible to imagine in a modern-day setting.
Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a respectable but vaguely discontented young lawyer, is engaged to marry the vapid and eminently proper May Welland (Winona Ryder). Their well-ordered lives are disrupted by the return of May's cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), a countess by virtue of
her marriage to a Polish aristocrat. Intelligent, sophisticated, and just a bit too continental after her years abroad, Ellen is at first shunned by New York society, then tolerated after the Archers and the Wellands band together to draw her back into the fold. The film charts the painfully
hesitant progress of Ellen and Newland's forbidden romance, no less passionate for being doomed.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is a feast for the eyes, and Scorsese brings to stuffy New York society the same keen regard for the rules of social games that characterize his earlier films.
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