Monday, February 10, 2014

Movie Monday: The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence
On the second and fourth Monday of every month, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good movie almost as much as a good book.

I have been looking forward to this movie since reading the book back in the fall. I adored Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. I felt so certain that the story would translate well to the screen and capture me just as the novel did.

Yeah, I was wrong.

I didn't hate the movie or anything. It was fine. It just...bored me. 

Let's start with casting. Daniel Day-Lewis and Michele Pfeiffer, while both incredible actors, seemed too old for their parts. When I read the book, I imagined young hearts, just on the cusp of adulthood. I supposed I should be realistic and note that the Countess Olenska's character has already been married for years when the story takes place. Still, in that era, she could have married at 16 and still only be in her early to mid twenties. Instead, the two were portrayed somewhere much closer to or older than thirty. Winona Ryder, on the other hand, plays a simply delightful May. I felt she captured the innocence of the character well and her age seemed correct.

Of course, that leads me into a whole other issue. Part of what made the novel so timeless was the love triangle between the three main characters. Wharton does a marvelous job highlighting the differences between May and Ellen. In the novel, Newland's struggle between the two is not only abundantly clear, but understandable. He is trapped between the traditional and the progressive, between passion and safety. Scorsese's film does not capture this dilemma in the same way at all. The love triangle is there, obviously, but the movie did not do well explaining why Newland swung between the two women.

On the other hand, Scorsese did a phenomenal job with the cinematography. I loved the detail shots of food and d├ęcor, particularly during dinner conversations. I felt like it nailed Wharton's statement on the values of that society. These details and decorum were valued above all else, certainly above genuine emotion. Here we find precisely the struggle of Newland's heart. Why couldn't they have just made that more clear in the script and the acting?

Overall, the movie was not bad. I simply felt that the magic of the book was lost on the screen. What is fascinating in type falls flat on film. I think the real struggle here is not that the movie was poorly done. They could not have chosen more talented actors or created more beautiful sets. I think the real issue was the inability to properly tell this story in this medium. Some stories are better told in words and with imagination. I think The Age of Innocence is among them.

What other stories would have been better left on the page?

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