“The Age of Innocence” The film “The Age of Innocence” goes into great depth about the two contrasting issues, innocence and experience. The film takes place in New York City, 1870 where the wealthy and sophisticated live. It is where society seems to be almost utopian, but underneath it all there lies betrayal and deceit. The director Martin Scorsese has adapted Edith Wharton’s novel, and made into a cinematographic spectacular. It is with the presentation of the film that the society of New York City comes alive.
Many techniques are used to portray the ideas of innocence and experience from the novel. Such techniques are shown through the plot, characters, symbols and filming effects.
The main plot of the film is concentrated around three characters and how society does or would respond to their actions. The story is of a love triangle that flies in the face of the conventions of society. Newland Archer, a handsome and intelligent young lawyer engaged to May Welland, a young woman who can sometimes be viewed as a child. Newland meets and is instantly attracted to May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. The Countess is rebounding from the scandal of having left her husband, a Polish Count, but upper-class society will not let her forget her past. After many meetings with Ellen, Newland slowly realizes that he really loves the countess and soon learns that she returns his loves. Newland is trapped in society, and faced with the choice of becoming a “traitor” to New York, or staying as a respectable man. The plot is deliberately made to contain lots of underlying messages and symbolic references. Ellen is seen as the experienced one because she is the “other” woman that Newland is in love with. Whereas May is the one who is up until the end, unaware of the situation between Newland and Ellen.
Scorsese uses several visual techniques to subtly emphasize Newland Archer’s sense of social claustrophobia. The zoom-out shot as the narrator speaks of Archer’s imprisonment at the final dinner with Ellen is gradually framed by curtains that narrow the scope of the frame. Flowers are used to represent status, innocent or experienced.Lightercolourssuggest innocents, and darker experienced. Different coloured flowers are shown throughout the movie, a recurring symbol that makes it easier to identify people and their status. The intro to the movie has several different flowers blooming, suggesting unfolding revelations or innocence being born.
Colour is used as an associative tool for characters. Countess Ellen Olenska’s colour schemes are initially used as contrast from the rest of New York society, when she appears at the opera in a startling blue dress.
Later her colours become dark reds and bright yellow. The darker colours symbolises that she has one through more in her life, and has experienced much grief and pain. When Archer kisses the pink parasol which he believes to be Ellen’s, the audience can anticipate that this is in fact not her belonging, as the colour scheme is wrong for the character. May, in contrast to Ellen, is associated with pastels and whites, the colours of the ‘lilies of the valley’. The softer, paler colours show her youth and innocence in similarity with a child.
Narration presents the same third-person viewpoint of the novel, with much of the text taken directly from the book. Narration is important for character development, as can be seen in the waltz scenes at the Beauforts.
The film is slowed; dialogue is muffled, although the source music remains heard. It is the narrator who presents character profiles directly, more so than any dialogue could in a culture of manners that is founded on discretion. Narration helps to identify and learn more about the characters and the different events that occur.
Newland Archer can be seen as an innocent or experienced person. He changes from time to time throughout the film. A start he can be seen as an innocent person. He is a young lawyer, and just starting to have clients.
He is just engaged, a big thing that changes your life forever. When Ellen comes into the picture, he turns into a man of experience. Trying to teach Ellen the ways of New York and to counsel her on how she should handle her relationship with her husband. When Newland finds out about Ellen’s feelings towards him, he knows it cannot go on if he is to remain as a courteous member of society. He doesn’t want to become an outcast like Ellen has, and he doesn’t want to hurt May.
Ellen Olenska is also both experienced and innocent. At the start she is experienced because she wears vibrants colours and stands out. When she was away she experiences a different way of life and then when she comes back; she is an outcast in the conformist society of New York and represents everything they go against. She is older than May and is more adult, in her actions and thoughts. Ellen is turned into an innocent, when she realises that society doesn’t accept her. She then sets out to become as American as possible, leading her to throw out her old life and nearly everything she usually enjoys.
May Welland is constantly innocent in the film. She represents a conformist in society and sometimes acts a little nave. She is one of the younger characters in the film and has had less experience, because it is assumed she has been sheltered as a child, unaware to the unpleasantness under society’s cover. There are times when she is upfront and strong, when she is accusing Newland of seeing another woman. She is able to be firm and have authority, but soon after Newland convinces her nothing is happening, she returns to her girlish state. At the end of the film, May is unaware that she is doomed to be forever trapped in the New York society. All she has known is the way of New York, not yet to have explored the rest of the world.
The film accurately portrays the ideas of innocence and experience.
In nearly every aspect of the film there is always the bottom of line of who is innocent and who is experienced. With the use of different techniques the message comes across a lot clearer and understandable.
Scorsese has successfully revealed the society of New York and how things are not always how they seem.