The Age of Innocence is a 1993 American historical romantic drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. The screenplay, an adaptation of the 1920 novel The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, was written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks.
Scorsese's friend and screenwriter Jay Cocks gave him the Wharton novel in 1980, suggesting that this should be the romantic piece Scorsese should film, as Cocks felt it best represented his sensibility.
In Scorsese on Scorsese the director noted
Although the film deals with New York aristocracy and a period of New York history that has been neglected, and although it deals with code and ritual, and with love that's not unrequited but unconsummated—which pretty much covers all the themes I usually deal with—when I read the book, I didn't say, "Oh good, all those themes are here."
The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder and Miriam Margolyes, and was released by Columbia Pictures. The film recounts the courtship and marriage of Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a wealthy New York society attorney, to May Welland (Winona Ryder); Archer then encounters and legally represents Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) prior to unexpected romantic entanglements.
The Age of Innocence was released theatrically on October 1, 1993 by Columbia Pictures. It received critical acclaim, winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and being nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Winona Ryder), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. However, it was a box office failure, grossing $32.3 million against a $34 million budget. Scorsese dedicated the film to his father, Luciano Charles Scorsese, who had died the month before the film was released. Luciano and his wife, Catherine Scorsese, had small cameo appearances in the film.
In 1870's New York City, gentleman lawyer Newland Archer is planning to marry the respectable young May Welland. May's cousin, the American heiress Countess Ellen Olenska, has returned to New York after a disastrous marriage to a dissolute Polish Count. At first she is ostracized by society and vicious rumors are spread, but, as May's family boldly stands by the countess, she is gradually accepted by the very finest of New York's old families.
The countess is snubbed at one social party arranged by her family, but with the help of Archer, she is able to make a comeback at an event being hosted by the wealthy Van der Luydens. There she makes the acquaintance of one of New York's established financiers, Julius Beaufort, who has a reputation for risky affairs and dissipated habits. He begins to openly flirt with the countess both in public and in private. Archer prematurely announces his engagement to May, but as he comes to know the countess, he begins to appreciate her unconventional views on New York society and he becomes increasingly disillusioned with his new fiancée May and her innocence, lack of personal opinion, and sense of self.
After the countess announces her intention of divorcing her husband, Archer supports her desire for freedom, but he feels compelled to act on behalf of the family and persuade the countess to remain married. When Archer realizes that he has unwittingly been falling in love with the countess, he abruptly leaves the next day to be reunited with May and her parents, who are in Florida on vacation. Archer asks May to shorten their engagement, but May becomes suspicious and asks him if his hurry to get married is prompted by the fear that he is marrying the wrong person. Archer reassures May that he is in love with her. When back in New York, Archer calls on the countess and admits that he is in love with her, but a telegram arrives from May announcing that her parents have pushed forward the wedding date.
After their wedding and honeymoon, Archer and May settle down to married life in New York. Over time, Archer's memory of the countess fades. When the countess returns to New York to care for her grandmother, she and Archer agree to consummate their affair. But then suddenly, the countess announces her intention to return to Europe. May throws a farewell party for the countess, and after the guests leave, May announces to Archer that she is pregnant and that she told the Countess this news two weeks earlier.
The years pass: Archer is 57 and has been a dutiful, loving father and faithful husband. The Archers have had three children. May has died of infectious pneumonia and Archer mourned her in earnest. Archer's engaged son, Ted, persuades him to travel to Paris. Ted has arranged for them to visit Countess Olenska there. Archer has not seen the her in over 25 years. Ted confides to his father that May had confessed on her deathbed that "... she knew we were safe with you, and always would be. Because once, when she asked you to, you gave up the thing you wanted most." Archer responds, "She never asked me." That evening outside the countess' apartment, Archer sends his son alone to visit her. Sitting outside in the courtyard, he recollects their time together and slowly walks off.
The Age of Innocence was filmed on location primarily in Troy, New York. The opera scenes were filmed at the Philadelphia Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The scenes set in the home of Mrs. Mingott were filmed in "The Castle", a fraternity house belonging to the Alpha Tau chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Formerly known as the Paine Mansion, after its completion in 1896 (then-estimated to cost $500,000), it was heralded as the grandest house in all of Troy.
The scenes depicting the country house in snow were filmed inside the circa 1737 Dutch-colonial Luykas Van Alen House, in Kinderhook, New York. Only one major set was built, for an ornate ballroom sequence at the Beaufort residence. The triangular Victorian Gothic Rice Building was used as the setting for the law office.
The film's title sequence was created by Elaine and Saul Bass. The famous paintings featured in the film were newly created high-quality reproductions. The bursts of color employed as a fade out were inspired by the films Black Narcissus (1947), by Michael Powell, and Rear Window (1954), by Alfred Hitchcock.
The film grossed $32.3 million in the US from a $34 million budget. By the end of 1993 it had grossed $15 million internationally.