Michelle Pfeiffer: The Age of Innocence

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time- Michael C. celebrates the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of his lifetime.It’s long been my contention that Michelle Pfeiffer is the best actress of my lifetime. She’s consistently impressed in a wide variety of performances spanning several decades now. She’s a true chameleon, disappearing inside of her characters, film after film. Clearly, she works extremely hard at her craft, but she makes it all seem effortless and above all, honest. We believe she is the character she’s playing. There’s no performative artifice to her acting; instead she’s fluid and natural, fully inhabiting the women she’s bringing to life.Pfeiffer’s performance as Countess Ellen Oleska in Martin Scorsese’s sublime The Age of Innocence (1993) is, without question, one of a handful of Pfeiffer roles that I point to whenever someone asks for “best performance ever” lists. The exquisite beauty and crushing heartache of her work in the film has haunted me over the years and through repeat viewings.Even though she tries mightily to adhere to the social decorum of the day, Ellen’s desire for Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis, in a performance that nearly equals Pfeiffer’s) radiates with a white-hot intensity that practically scorches the screen. This love, built on mutual attraction and also respect, will sadly remain unconsummated due to the societal mores of 1870s New York City. Pfeiffer makes us feel every ounce of Ellen’s pain, often with just a heartfelt glance or a forced smile in polite company.It’s a remarkably affecting performance and, as is usual with Pfeiffer, utterly seamless as well. An argument can be made that it’s Pfeiffer’s best work. Whether or not that’s true, and I tend to believe it might be, it’s clearly among her most definitive roles. I would also argue that it’s one of the most achingly beautiful and nuanced performances ever captured on film.



Filed under Guest Post

29 responses to “Michelle Pfeiffer: The Age of Innocence

  1. The Age of Innocence is breathtaking. The opera scene, the hands in the carriage, the last scene… such a beautiful film.
    I catch my breath whenever I watch Michelle walk across the room in that ravishing red dress and of course, the vision of her standing on the pier in the sunset is one of my favourite Pfeiffer moments.
    I’m really enjoying your Michelle retrospectives, thank you for allowing me to share them.

    • Thank you for sharing, Paul. As always, I greatly appreciate your efforts to bring some of my humble writing about Michelle to the masses (i.e., your audience here). I hope others will chime in here and we can start a discussion about Michelle’s excellence in this film–a film, by the way, that I would also rank highly in my all-time best list. It’s a stunning achievement, really.

      And I know I’ve said before that awards mean nothing, but how on earth Michelle didn’t win one for this picture is beyond me. She wasn’t even nominated! Ugh.

      • My pleasure, us pfans have to stick together.
        The Age of Innocence could well be my favourite moment from Michelle. The snub heard around the world? I am enthralled every time I watch this film. Isn’t Pfeiffer’s performance one of the best from any Scorsese woman?

        • Oh, absolutely on that last question. Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Jodie Foster (as just a girl) in Taxi Driver would rank just below Michelle if I were to make a list of best Scorsese women performances.

          And we can still hear the reverberations of that snub today, nearly twenty-five years later!

          • You’ve just made a fine day even finer!

            • Happy to make your day finer, Paul! Stay tuned, too. I hope to have another up soon. It’s basically in the can, but I’m just not sure when I’ll run it. I’ll be busy with work the rest of this week, then next week is Thanksgiving, so who knows. Maybe I’ll try and post it Monday or Tuesday.

              Sorry, that was a conversation I’m having with myself, inside my head. As a blogger, you surely understand. 😉

              • Oh I understand, I have the same running conversation. I’m currently hopping between blogs and screen capping a Meg Ryan movie in preparation for her birthday on Sunday. Sometimes I wonder why I still bother with this blogging malarkey, but the support of you and everybody else makes it so rewarding.

                • What other blog are you writing for? And fill me in on the Meg birthday celebration thingy! Sounds fun, can’t wait to read what you have in store.

                  • It’s Meg Ryan’s birthday on Sunday so I’ll be putting a post up in her honour. Hopefully a few people will join me in an informal blogathon celebrating Meg and her movies.

                • Also meant to add: I totally understand questioning why we bother with blogging. I have bouts of that sort of indecision almost on a weekly basis. Ultimately, I keep telling myself that I am a writer, I need to get these things out, off my chest, and let them breathe out in the open. It helps, even if only a tiny bit. And one day, if it ceases to help and just becomes a pain in the you-know-what, well then I suppose I’ll take a break.

  2. Michelle is so talented. She is perfect in this beautiful film. The way the Countess and Newland must hide their desires in the restrictive upper class society is painful to watch. This is an excellent film, and it is one that I consider to be one of the best films Scorsese has ever made. This is certainly one of the best performances Michelle has ever given.

  3. Can I just say how outstanding Michelle is in Murder on the Orient Express – she really stands out. Her look and her whole persona bring that film to life and it would be pretty mediocre without her 👍

  4. rbtheuncritic

    i will take a moment away from football season to say that if I had to choose, my favorite actress of all time is Michelle Pfeiffer. Having not changed my mind about that all these years…. not likely to do so now!

    • It’s always a pleasure to hear you sing the praises of La Pfeiffer.
      I know football’s your priority at the moment, but you’re welcome to stop by on Sunday for Meg Ryan’s birthday bash.

  5. I think it’s probably my favorite role of hers. She was breathtaking to watch.

  6. Great post 🙂 While The Age of Innocence may not be one of my favorite Scorsese films or Edith Wharton adaptations (Terrence Davies The House of Mirth is far superior), Michelle Pfeiffer was great in it. You might be interested to know Michael that my second favorite Martin Scorsese film of all-time is Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The first is Mean Streets. Great post 🙂

    • Nice, John! And thank you.

      I think my top five Scorses would look like this: Taxi Driver, The Age of Innocence, Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The King of Comedy.

      The order may switch around from time to time, but those are pretty much my five faves from him.

  7. I agree that Pfeiffer’s performance in The Age of Innocence was one of her best, and it is very exquisite indeed. My only complaint is that she is badly cast in that film. Of course, that was the producers/Scorsese’s interpretation, and he opted for a more dramatic Countess Olenska. But, from the book, I always imagined someone in that role who is not THAT dissimilar to May (Winona Ryder’s character). Someone who is around the same age as May, but who is only slightly different from May in appearance, and only drastically different from May in the way she behaves and in her interest in life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s