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We watched the Martin Scorsese film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence last night on Netflix, the one with Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, mostly because, crab about it as I do, I’m fascinated by New York history, now that I live here.

I found the movie itself to be uneven. The electric lights bothered me, because I was fairly certain that widespread distribution of electricity to households and other public facilities (the movie opens in a theater, where the opera singers are clearly being lit by electric spotlights) didn’t exist in the 1870s. Turns out I was right, but it wasn’t that far off in the future, either, at least as far as New York City itself was concerned, so maybe that’s the kind of thing that can be fuzzy in a movie like this.

The Age of Innocence DVD caseThe performances seemed a little overdone to me, especially Daniel Day-Lewis’ cryptic and creepy Newland Archer. I completely failed to believe that he and Pfeiffer’s Ellen Olenska were falling in love, during that part of the movie. I ended up granting that to the experience, though, using the same kind of suspension of disbelief that you have to use to accept, say, Jedi powers or web-slinging and wall-crawling superheroes. Once I did that, just accepted that the long ponderous close-up poses and knit eyebrows actually meant that they had fallen in love, I found the rest of it reasonably well-done, and the ending in particular, when Newland realizes what his wife had done for him, very moving. Of course, that’s Wharton, not Scorsese, isn’t it?

The Gangs of New York is still Scorsese’s definitive New York history epic.