The scenes between Edith Wharton’s exiled lovers are remarkable for the gamut of emotions they go through. Their furtive glances and embraces behind closed doors are electric, but they also demonstrate that sometimes less can be more. Little things like the removal of a glove and a kiss on the neck are all so erotic, and all so poignant. The passion between Newland and Ellen touches a nerve, and their few intimate moments together will leave you holding your breath. Heartbreakingly tragic.
Don’t you just hate it when the lovers don’t end up together? Damn realism, I think most people get a knot in the stomach when the credits roll and you realise that the lovers will remain apart. The thing is, it works in films. So many classics have been memorable precisely because the lovers end up apart, it hurts, but it still rings true.The Age of Innocence and Flesh and Bone are two films that I think do the deed better than most. Interestingly enough they were released just two months apart in the Autumn of 1993. I go back and forth on which film is superior, but they are two films that had a very profound impact on me – for very similar reasons.
Flowers erupt sensually into bloom in the opening credits of The Age of Innocence, exploding with an intensity and passion that wasn’t tolerated in the era it depicts. That time and place is New York’s high society in the 1870s as Edith Wharton so beautifully described it in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
The Age of Innocence concerns the struggle between individualism and society and the complications of falling in love with the wrong person when you’ve committed to someone else. A young lawyer named Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is happily engaged to a seemingly plain woman named May (Winona Ryder). Archer practically bursts with joy at his impending nuptials — until he meets her exotic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer).The social scene keeps Ellen at arm’s length when she flees Europe and her philandering husband to return to New York. Society frowns upon her actions, not so much for making a bad marriage to an outsider but for admitting her mistake publicly and leaving the situation. In the 1870s, her social circle viewed it as better to be married and miserable than divorced and at peace. The Age of Innocence is a beautiful period piece, but above all else, it is an actors’ film. Winona Ryder excels playing a young woman who isn’t as bland as she appears and Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis are as emotionally compelling as any movie pairing I can remember. They’re a feast for the eyes, and by the time the lenses of Michael Ballhaus linger on The Age of Innocence’s final scene, your hunger for exquisite film making will have been more than satisfied.
A hundred years and the width of the cinematic spectrum away from the New York of The Age Of Innocence; the wide vistas of West Texas are the backdrop to Flesh and Bone, a tale of two lovers-by-chance haunted by a past darker than they know.In an opening scene reminiscent of In Cold Blood, a young boy is used as a decoy to get his father into an isolated farmhouse. The father is a thief, and a murderer, shockingly revealed when he shoots dead the entire family, with the exception of a baby girl. 25 years later, it’s destined that the young boy and girl will meet again. It’s a small world out there under the vast West Texas sky.Martin Scorsese got striking visuals from Michael Ballhaus on The Age of Innocence, but Flesh and Bone‘s cinematographer Philippe Rousellot may be even more a virtuoso. The Texas landscape is arid and scorched, but his visuals are as luminous as shards of ice. Flesh and Bone‘s views are reminiscent of the film’s of Terrence Malick, from the grocery stores and bus stations, right down to the empty beer bottles in a wash basin at dawn.Something Flesh and Bone shares with The Age of Innocence is a sweeping romance that’s doomed to fail, and watching the desires and yearnings of these frustrated lovers will leave you aching for the future that they’ll never share. Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan draw their characters so well, moments between the two are just gorgeous to watch. Even without the benefit of romantic lighting and luminous costumes they bring out the essence of beauty. No one here is playing at anything. It’s a world these actors seem to possess in their DNA. The chemistry between them is effortless, and a perfect corollary to the wonderfully intense desire shared by Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer.