samedi, mars 24, 2007

Iconic Love

I spent the evening with some good women friends tonight. After the kind of lovely high carb, high sugar dinner that women eat when guys aren't around, we watched Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence." Neither of them had read the book. Nor did they know the plot. Based on the Edith Wharton novel, the movie chronicles the complex relationships between Newland Archer, his girlish fiancee, May Welland, and her older cousin, Ellen Olenska. Behind, around and betwixt them as they collide are figures from old New York society in the 1870s-interbred, claustrophobic, and bound by social codes as inflexible as they are silent.

When Wharton wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in the early 1920s, the old mores were already almost gone or were certainly challenged. But she does a wonderful job of conveying the cost of rebelling against the conventions.

At one point (not to spoil the movie or the book) Newland says to Ellen (paraphrase) "You showed me a life that was real, and now you are asking me to go back to a false one."

What evocative words. Many of us are torn by the fear that we will make sacrifices for convention, or for duty, that push us away from the person we love-the man or woman our heart yearns for. It's a very powerful idea- as someone who often defies the conventions, it stirs me up in ways that I don't really even understand. And yet I am 'almost' sure that we don't have one particular great love-and nearly certain that sometimes duty can become love, or passion become duty.

It is part of Scorsese's genius as a director that you can watch the movie again and again and see new things every time. A friend of mine with experience as a screenwriter told me that, from a technical and narrative point of view, it is is one of the best movies ever made-the food scenes, for example, are minor jewels in themselves.

As down to earth as I am, there is something about the ending (both novel and movie) that gets me every time. But any other ending probably would be false to the soul of the novel. As I told a friend, wiping the tears from my eyes, I keep trying to re-write the ending in my mind. Wharton's masterly finish is probably more true to real life-in which the dream is more powerful, and perhaps more comforting, than that which is or was, real.

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