12 March 2008

Filmbook: The Age of Innocence (1993)

If nothing else, Martin Scorsese's film "The Age of Innocence" is unfailingly faithful to the Edith Wharton novel it adapts. The movie's narration (by Joanne Woodward) is taken straight from the book and, more importantly I think, the novel's original ending is preserved from any Hollywoodizing influence. The teacher I had for the class in which we read the book faulted the film for making the naive fiancee a brunette and the sultry temptress a blonde, but Winona Ryder's wide-eyed May and Michelle Pfeiffer's perpetually on edge Madame Olenska both suited their roles really well. (This was back when Winona Ryder was everywhere... ahh, the '90s.)

I'm not familiar with Daniel Day-Lewis' body of work (with the exception of his Oscar-winning role in "There Will Be Blood") but I think he did about as good a job embodying Newland Archer as anyone could. I have a very particular idea of Newland in my mind, and Day-Lewis didn't fit exactly, but that's all right.

Still I couldn't help but feel like the heart of what makes THE AGE OF INNOCENCE great was absent from the film. What social commentary of Wharton's Scorsese managed to get into this movie just made me miss the book more; moreover, I didn't feel like the filming of the story really added anything to my idea of the book. Scorsese did use several interesting shots, but many of the dinner scenes, the setting of the opera and even Newland's private library looked familiar to me from other romantic dramas like this. I never got the feeling, as I did with "Atonement" (no, I will not shut up about the movie) that I was gaining new insight or experiencing the text in a new way. It did give me new insight on Scorsese, a director whose films I have only lately started to watch, but given the time I would rather re-read passages from the book than watch the movie.

Verdict: Read the book; if you like period dramas, or (like my roommate) Michelle Pfeiffer, see the movie.

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