The Quarantine Stream: 'The Age of Innocence' is Martin Scorsese's Most Unconventional Gangster Film

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: The Age of Innocence

Where You Can Stream It: Pluto TV

The Pitch: It’s a well known fact that Martin Scorsese, the most vocal hater of Marvel Studios films, only makes gangster movies and has never once expanded his cinematic vocabulary beyond those parameters (noting the sarcasm here in the parenthesis, just in case). But The Age of Innocence, based on Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel and set in 1870s New York City, is the most unconventional gangster film of his entire filmography. Not a single gun is fired, there are no scenes featuring heavy drug use or wanton sexual exploits, and Joe Pesci is nowhere to be found. Instead, this story is about a simmering, would-be love affair between members of upper-class society.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Trust me: you’ve never seen a gangster film quite like this one.

Okay, okay – I’ll spare you the rest of my dumb “The Age of Innocence is a gangster film” bit. But seriously, folks: if you’re one of those people who snidely paints Scorsese’s cinematic output as “only” being in that genre, I implore you to seek out some of his non-gangster work, because there’s plenty of it. This film in particular should disabuse people of the notion that he’s only interested in telling violent stories about tough guys, because it’s a full-blown period romance complete with some of the most lavish, opulent costumes and set design you’ll ever see.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, a wealthy piece of cardboard who is engaged to a pleasant, conventional young woman named May (Winona Ryder) but finds his insides torn to shreds as he slowly realizes he’s actually falling for May’s cousin, Madame Olenska (Michelle Pfieffer). Olenska has the opposite of May’s passive temperament: she’s fiery and independent, and feels trapped within the shackles of what New York’s gossipy high society deems appropriate.

This is not a romance full of sweeping proclamations of love or hyper-dramatic gestures. It’s a relatively small film about two people who feel stifled by the outside world and who decide that keeping up appearances and continuing to operate within the bounds of “proper” behavior is more important than throwing caution to the wind and following their hearts’ desires. It’s a movie full of quiet glances and scenes that are practically bursting with words unspoken. It’s about as far from Goodfellas or The Departed as you can get.

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