The Age of Innocence is a 1993 film set in New York City in the 1870s.  It is based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name.  The film focuses on the main character, Newland Archer, a wealthy lawyer living in the city, and his love affair between his fiancée, May Welland, and her cousin, Ellen Olenska.  May is a well-mannered, innocent young woman.  Ellen, on the other hand, is distraught due to her marriage with a Polish Count.  In the beginning, Archer is excited about taking his relationship with May to the next stage and thus announces their engagement early.  Meanwhile, Ellen is trying to get a divorce with her husband.  Archer, as a member of one of the larger families in New York City, must advise Ellen not to go through with this.  After spending more and more time with her, however, he becomes attracted to Ellen because of her nature of being an outsider to the family.  Afraid of making the wrong decision, Archer rushes to Florida, where May and her parents are, in order to tell her that he wants to push the marriage to an earlier date.  However, this concerns May because she worries that Archer wants to get the marriage over with because there might be another woman he is seeing from his past that is lingering. 

As the film progresses, Archer and May marry and the two settle in New York.  Archer slowly stops thinking about Ellen.  But, the two cross paths once more after May’s grandmother suffers from a stroke and Ellen returns to New York to take care of her.  When they meet, however, there is a change of heart.  Although Archer wants to keep this affair of theirs going, Ellen plans on moving to Europe in a few weeks.  This is because May is pregnant and decided to tell Ellen weeks before she tells Archer.  Moreover, Ellen wants to leave Archer before she does any harm to his marriage.

Many years pass as the movie comes to an end.  Archer is now an old man and May has died of pneumonia.  Archer genuinely mourned his wife’s passing and has taken responsibility to raise his three children.  One son, Ted, is now engaged and invites Archer to visit Ellen in Paris.  While there, Archer ends up refusing to go into her apartment, claiming that he is “too old-fashioned.”  Ted goes up to visit while Archer turns and walks away.  This is how the movie eventually ends.

This film is a Columbia release of a Cappa/De Fina production.  It was produced by Barbara De Fina and directed by Martin Scorsese (McCarthy 1).  The production designer, Dante Ferretti used an opera house in Philadelphia, an old Dutch homestead in upstate New York, and the Victorian City of Troy, NY to represent the private homes and the public places in the film (Gray 1).  There are three main characters in the film: Ellen Olenska, Newland Archer, and May Welland.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the vivacious and unconventional Countess Olenska.  She has an affair with Newland Archer, a lawyer who is played by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Newland, however, is married to Ellen’s cousin, May Welland, who is portrayed by Winona Ryder.  Throughout the film, there is a narrator, voiced by Joanne Woodward, who channels Wharton’s prose from the novel (Gilchrist 1).

The film received many great reviews from critics.  Rolling Stone said, “…Martin Scorsese sweeps us away on waves of dizzying eroticism and rapturous romance” (Travers 1).  In addition, New York Times said, “TAKING ‘The Age of Innocence,’ Edith Wharton’s sad and elegantly funny novel about New York’s highest society in the 1870’s, Martin Scorsese has made a gorgeously uncharacteristic Scorsese film” (Canby 1).  Furthermore, Variety said, “For sophisticated viewers with a taste for literary adaptations and visits to the past, there is a great deal here to savor…But it is difficult to picture general audiences warming up to these representatives of the old ruling class, whose constricted emotional lives Wharton brilliantly illustrated in her 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel” (McCarthy 1).  The latter critic is especially accurate in predicting that the film will not do as well as most films.  The film only grossed around $32 million in a $34 million production budget, which doesn’t even break even (Box Office Mojo 1).  Despite this, The Age of Innocence did manage to be nominated, and win in some cases, for several awards from the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and several others.  

The Age of Innocence connects to many themes discussed in class.  For instance, The Age of Innocence challenges what we as individuals perceive to be morals and norms.  It’s common knowledge why an affair would be considered morally unjust.  However, both Ellen and Archer don’t feel this way about their affair.  In fact, it isn’t until May lets Ellen know that she is pregnant that Ellen feels any remorse for her actions.  This challenges the accepted norm for the upper-classed society pictured throughout the film.  In the 1870s, one wouldn’t be expected to have an affair.  The status quo relies on well-mannered, courteous people, which is pictured throughout the film.  For example, Archer sends flowers to show his affection for May early on in the movie.  The flowers may represent his kindness and may prove him to be a gentleman.  This is contrasted, however, by his actions towards the middle of the film with his affair with Ellen.

When Ellen comes into Archer’s life, we see Archer begin to transform by her unorthodox lifestyle. Ellen is the catalyst that opens up Archer’s eyes to the real meaning of life. Rather than conform to society’s rules, she lives by her own desires. She represents the theme of meaningfulness. In society’s eyes, she is a rebel, but that is only because everyone else is blinded and constricted by customs and proper manners. Her affair with Archer is a symbol of their rejection of society’s morals and norms. Throughout the film, she is attempting to sway Archer into living life without having to worry about how society will view him.

-By Justin Bischof and Herrick Lam





Canby, Vincent. “Review/Film: The Age of Innocence; Grand Passions and Good Manners.” The

New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Sept. 1993,

Gilchrist, Andrew. “My Favourite Film: The Age of Innocence.” The Guardian, Guardian News

and Media, 23 Dec. 2011,

Gray, Christopher. “Recreating ‘The Age of Innocence’ in Brick and Paint.” The New York

Times, The New York Times, 23 Oct. 1993,

McCarthy, Todd. “Review: ‘The Age of Innocence.’” Variety, Variety Media, LLC, 31 Aug.,                                                                                                                                                                          


“The Age of Innocence (1993).” Box Office Mojo, IMDb, Inc.,

Travers, Peter. “The Age of Innocence.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 1 Jan. 1993,