December 12, 2011

Must Watch Before You Die #23: The Age of Innocence (1993)

After a really long time, a love-story has affected me so deeply. Despite being set in the 19th century, amidst the superficial lives of the upper class New Yorkers, Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ is devoid of any hint of melodrama, and manages to strike a chord universally. I believe it will continue to do that forever. It is one of those non-Hindi films I can show to my Mom, and then discuss in detail, drawing parallels from the profoundly mature and moving stories of love and longing by Gulzar (Read ‘Andhi’, ‘Mausam’, ‘Ijazat’). And I’m confident that most people out there, who have loved, or loved and lost, will cry the tears that only welled up my eyes. (And that is a big cut-off as I hardly get sentimental watching love stories!)

The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning eponymous novel by Edith Wharton – the first female author to win the award. In one of the film’s many brilliant scenes, the narrator, aptly in a female voice, shares with us what the male protagonist thinks about her innocent wife: “He thought it was wonderful how such depths of feelings could coexist with such an absence of imagination.” Note the amazing insight it provides into the characters. The tender purity of this line echoes all through the 140-minute film and I believe it required a woman to write something as beautiful as this.

And I also believe it required a master like Scorsese to translate it to cinema so effectively. Scorsese in my opinion is a film-maker who makes European Cinema set in America, and uses the best of Hollywood to form strong and unique authorial expressions. Not many film-makers have managed to achieve that incredibly impressive balance between art and commerce, niche and popular, substance and style, or form and content. So ‘The Age of Innocence’ is not only one of the most beautiful film you will see, its beauty goes beyond sets and costumes to the magical mix of inventiveness and classical film grammar. It is one of those films which you can enjoy watching on mute, as well as by just listening to the sound-track with your eyes closed. Of course, you would not prefer to close your eyes, especially because of the amazing performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. The intricately nuanced acting by them is one of the biggest achievements of the film, and perhaps the biggest reason to watch it all over again. ‘The Age of Innocence’ celebrates cinema’s unique confluence of all forms of expression and tops it all with a rare sensitivity. You have to watch it, soon.

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