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New York City in the 1870s

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It's New York City in the 1870s, a society ruled by expectations and propriety, where a hint of immorality can bring scandal and ruin. This is an America every bit as Victorian as her contemporary England. Into this world arrives Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), a woman who has spent much of her life in Europe and is now escaping from a disastrous marriage. Her initial adult meeting with Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is sedate - he is engaged to her cousin May (Winona Ryder) - but there is a subtle fire smouldering from the first glance. From that point on, Archer's dilemma becomes painfully clear - proceed with what society deems proper and marry the rather vapid May, or allow his heart and passions to carry him far from the realm of what is conventionally acceptable.

Martin Scorsese has made a reputation from making movies that show a profound perceptiveness of human nature through their images of toughness and violence. On the surface, one would be hard-pressed to find a story more unlike Raging Bull or Goodfellas than The Age of Innocence, which seems better suited to a Merchant-Ivory production. However, Scorsese has placed his indelible stamp on this picture, not only through the camerawork, but in the potent tension that builds between the main characters. For while blood has often been Scorsese's method, the characters, and what exists between and within them, have always been his ends.

The Age of Innocence is a sumptuous motion picture, a feast for the senses. The colors are vivid, from the red and yellow of roses to the flashes of crimson and white that transition scenes. The powerful score moves along with the story, in perfect counterpoint to the visuals - never intrusive, but always effective. The scenes of artfully-prepared meals are enough to make mouths water, and it's almost possible to smell the pungent aroma of cigars. In these elements of the film, Scorsese was ably assisted by contributions from composer Elmer Bernstein and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

The set design and costumes are flawless, and the audience is legitimately transported to the nineteenth-century (through the help of Troy, NY, where the principal filming was done, and the Philadelphia Academy of Music, which doubled as a New York opera house). This is not some mere token attempt to conjure up images of times past; Scorsese has put so much effort into the illusion that those who didn't know better would be willing to swear that he had discovered a time capsule.

Adapting from the 1921 Pulitzer

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