Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Comparison: The Age of Innocence vs. Dangerous Liaisons

A truly beautiful shot. I really wanted her to turn around.

I just finished watching The Age of Innocence for the first time. It is an achingly beautiful period piece about a romance that is simply not meant to be.

Director Martin Scorsese has once again proved (to me, at least) that he is a fearless director who possesses endless versatility. Whether it's a biblical epic or a gangster shoot 'em up, Scorsese seems to live and breathe cinema.

The Age of Innocence
is no different.

Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) are two very compatible people who can't live happily ever after because they fall in love in the wrong time and wrong place. However, Archer is engaged to the young, traditional May Welland (Winona Ryder) and the Countess Olenska is contemplating a socially unacceptable divorce from her Polish husband.

What results is an aesthetically gorgeous feast and a compelling and lightly satirical look at the romance and drama of those who dwell in the gossipy obstacles courses of New York high society of the late 1800s.

What a lovely cinematic couple. Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer should make another film together someday.

And, not to mention, Daniel Day-Lewis, in this film in particular, is incredibly handsome. I thought of how well he is able to wear the period garb in this film and how attractive he made those insane, flamboyant costume pieces in Gangs of New York look. If I were a man, I would want Daniel Day-Lewis' physique. Just sayin'.

Just looking at this picture reminds me of the electricity between Close and Malkovich. What chemistry.

But as I watched The Age of Innocence, I was reminded of another period film (and Pfeiffer flick), Dangeorus Liaisons, directed by Stephen Frears. Frears, for the most part, is almost as versatile as Scorsese but doesn't seem to get the same level of undivided attention.

In Dangerous Liaisons, you have John Malkovich, fearlessly and successfully tearing through a conventional lothario role with his unconventioinal looks. And that impeccable last shot of Glenn Close is simply haunting.

While The Age of Innocence takes place a century later in an entirely different continent, there is the same discreet, hush-hush mentality regarding uncontrollable feelings that deviate from the norm. Yet, strangely enough, everything feels so much more liberated in Dangerous Liaisons. Perhaps that's due to the naturally manipulative nature to the characters in Dangerous Liaisons, in contrast to the characters in The Age of Innocence, who, deep down, just want to do the right thing.

I personally prefer The Age of Innocence, yet I also adore the exciting games played in Dangerous Liaisons, despite the fact that the film does feel too theatrical at times. These films would accompany each other well in a double feature.

So, which film do you prefer: The Age of Innocence or Dangerous Liaisons and why?


  1. Lovely writeup. An Age of Innocene is a beauty and in my top three of 1992. It's such an underrated gem, and yet I prefer Dangerous Liaisons. I can't say why, since both pieces are excellent. I suppose it's because Liaisons is just so tightly done, and so rigid I can't resist. Still, few love Scorsese as I do, and I will never say anything bad about any of his films especially this excellent one. It's a pity it wasn't more recognised. Scorsese really can do anything.

  2. Marcy, it was a genuine rush to read this. Just gorgeous...

    I'm immeasurably thrilled that you loved TAOA. It is bloody great, isn't it?

    I've adored DL since the first time I saw it. I don't play games, deceive or dabble in infidelity. (And no man that I've ever been involved with would be stupid enough - or sufficiently energetic after I was through with him - to even entertain those thoughts.)

    But the heightened drama, the passion, the endless walking of the high wire are all exceedingly familiar to me.

    In film, tragic love stories and star crossed romances are things that I'm naturally drawn to.

    I must confess that I was very slow off the mark to fully appreciate TAOI's special charms.

    I did like it a lot when I first viewed it. BUT (and this is very crucial...) I had a lot of serious issues with it.

    First and foremost, Ellen and Newland don't ever get to take the lid off the cookie jar.

    So what the hell is the point...?

    Don't ever get me started on that ending because it made me angry for a LONG time. I remember seeing an interview with Marty where he defended the original conclusion in the book - which he used - as being true and right.

    A lot of people said to him, "I don't understand. Why can't Newland go upstairs?"

    And Marty said: "It's simple. HE CAN'T."

    My mama always said that I was blindsided by my wild Irish hormones and my need to be adored. She told me it would get me in an endless amount of trouble.

    It did. She was right.

    Yeah, I know. According to what she said, friendship is the foundation for any long standing relationship. Blah f'ing blah.

    I'm sure that's true. But friendship is boring. Setting the house on fire is a hell of a lot more fun.

    Maybe I am finally growing up. (But not too much I hope...)

    When I watch TAOI now, it doesn't make me as nuts. I don't want to kick Winona Ryder's character in the teeth at 15 minute intervals throughout the film.

    (Though she is definitely the destroyer of everything humane and worthwhile in the movie. Poor Newland.)

    There can be times when all you have with someone is all you're ever going to have. Whatever that may be and whatever the reasons are.

    When you comprehend that fully (and you're NOT good with it), then it's time to find that white horse and get the hell out of Dodge.

    I'm also willing to let my difficulties with the ending go. I bought the book and never read the whole thing. Only portions. I believe that the conclusion could be up for a variety of possible interpretations.

    But I think I understand now. You have to be a grown up at some point. There's just no getting around it.

    DDL (though never model perfect handsome by a long shot) is a good looking enormously sexy man. In TAOI Newland is soft spoken, gentle and elegant.

    Works for me.

    The shot (with all that glorious sunshine) that you reference at the top of the post haunts me to this day. I guess I just don't dig the inevitable "what if...?" scenario.

    Stuff like that can kill you. But you have to figure out what's worth fighting for. Some things aren't worth saving.

    I'd give DL five stars (out of five) while TAOI gets four. They're both superb in their own individual ways.

    You are definitely right. They'd make one hell of a mesmerizing double bill.

    Fabulous prose, Marcy. Well done...

  3. @Andrew
    DL is definitely more fast-paced than TAOI, yet my heart belongs to the latter.

    I've just recently fallen in love with Scorsese, though I've been watching his films for years. I feel like the older I am, the more I "get" a Scorsese film, if that makes any sense.

    But I do think Scorsese is prone to misfires. I saw Kundun last weekend and though everyone could agree that the Dalai Lama is a fascinating topic, no one involved in the film seems to think that any under-the-surface research was necessary. Kundun is just a boring, standard biopic. But the cinematography is certainly breathtaking.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the entry, Andrew.

    You know, I love DL because it's so much damn fun. I wasn't planning to watch the entire thing since I was doing some late-night channel-surfing, but the moment I got on with the drama, I couldn't stop watching.

    My life is nothing like DL. I'm a very reserved, drama-free kind of person. That's partially why DL fascinates me.

    TAOI strikes a particular chord with me that DL doesn't.

    Newland and Ellen belong together. The fact they aren't able to consummate their relationship is part of the beauty of the tragedy.

    May does what any wife in her social standing would do. She has to protect her family from scandal. She really does care for Newland and want to save him from whatever is coming to him if he does pursue Ellen. Sure, she isn't thinking about Newland and Ellen's happiness, but she has to do what she had to. Her motivations make sense to me.

    I love how Newland doesn't go upstairs. Scorsese was right: He just can't. He prefers to be in love with a memory of Ellen rather than face the music of the present. And, after all those years living a conventional life, he is a different man confined to the passionless standards of society. Yes, he still loved Ellen, but he has moved on with his life and he didn't want to turn back.

    I happen to dig to "what if...?" scenario. TAOI relies on that in a haunting, beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking way.

    Thanks for stopping by, Miranda.

  4. I still have to see The Age of Innocence! So, by default, I like Dangerous Liaisons more hahaha.

  5. Like Jude, I haven't seen Age of INnocence yet. Like Andrew, I haven't seen Kundun either.

    Its difficult to be a completist with Scorsese - its not enough to have watched Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs, Departed, Shutter, etc, etc etc.

    And then there are the music documentaries AND the upcoming Tv series ...

    God, am I behind!