The Age of Innocence

All things taken into consideration “The Age of Innocence” is actually a much better movie than I originally gave it credit for being. Not that i have recently seen it again, but I remember it well enough to know the messages of the film are terribly insightful and as I should read the book, everyone should at least see the film if not read the book. (The film is directed by Martin Scorsese, I originally though Daniel Day Lewis was overly dramatic but I am willing to completely reevaluate that in light of recent events which make the events in the film and the emotional dramas involved seem to ring truer than ever…and the 1920 novel is by Edith Wharton and most likely much better than the movie). It is a story about men and women struggling between societal expectations and love. Set in the Golden Age of New York, there is a sexy woman that makes a man’s heart beat, and another conventionally lovely looking lady that meets the proper role expected in a wife at the time. The second proper lady becomes the wife of course, and the other is always this unattainable, fiery phantom that he longs after, but is too cowardly to actually go after.
“’Then stay with me a little longer,’ Madame Olenska said in a low tone, just touching his knee with her plumed fan. It was the lightest touch, but it thrilled him like a caress.” (Wharton)
It is amazing what a powerful force social norms can be against personal desire. Feelings of fear, fear of lost love, fear of losing face, fear of losing one’s self respect, identity, and place in society, these are all elements intertwined to crush potential happiness that comes from following your true heart. I hope everyone learns to follow their hearts a little better, including me…
But I think I need to explicate further. You may now think that I think of this male character only as a coward, and Olenska as a great beauty. But it obviously isn’t so black and white. She was different in that he preferred something deeper in her essence that was apart from surface beauty. It was this surface convention that was being upheld with the innocent charm of his wife. I remeber the movie pretty well, and was thinking about it last night as Jeremy made a point at a coworkers’ birthday party of telling everyone he was going to a movie he’d already seen (avatar, which I hear has an awful simplistic love plot) with a “friend” who I know to be a sweet, innocent girl with a dog he knew from Eugene who is not in town and now maybe the reason he has thwarted me and refuses to acknowledge my existence. I don’t think this is exactly related, but I find similarities in the need to uphold ideals, to be fit within a framework with which someone can understand his identity in society and not feel out of control. His desire for Olenska in the story was intense and possibly too intense for him to comfortably explore, and as she didn’t want to be lost in the made up reality of her that he was creating, as she preferred her self-respect, independence of spirit and her own separate identity, than she too was ready to accept being alone instead of tainting with a prescribed affair the pure condition of their unconsummated desires…he saw a perfection in her, but he also I think was afraid of breaking that perfection and seeing her as a real person losing that novelty and that lust. He also saw in his wife a purity and innocence that I think he felt comfortable with, as he never could fully act upon his passions, and I believe that was out of fear, most essentially of himself and to what he could become if he lost that familiar social fabric that created who he was as a man of society in NY’s golden age


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