In Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence Michelle Pfeiffer (52 today) and Daniel Day-Lewis (53 today) play doomed lovers in 1870's New York City. She's the Countess Olenska, an outcast returning to American society where she's met with quiet hostility and he plays the reserved Newland Archer, who happens to be engaged to the Countess' cousin (Winona Ryder).
Marty fills the movie with nuances that had been uncharacteristic of his work at the time but works his visionary camera moves and Thelma Schoonmaker's vibrant editing seamlessly into a plot that usually would've been done in a less "flashy" style. What we get with this technique is a perfect embodiment of Edith Wharton's tale of repression in contrast with the modern NYC Marty eventually captured in his earlier films.
Never is this repression and stylistic wonder more perfect than in a scene where Newland finally declares his love for Olenska.
After a jealous fit, worthy of a lover, Newland confronts Olenska. As she turns around he begins to kiss her neck.
Soon they embrace, as Olenska sobs and Newland unleashes the "revolutionary" he thinks he is.
Any skeptical people who thought Pfeiffer and Day-Lewis had no spark, would have to eat their words during this moment.
It's only a few seconds later that Marty introduces one of his dazzling stylistic methods. The mood changes from fiery passion to forbidden romance as the camera and cuts become smoother and we only listen to Olenska's words while the images show us the context.
As if we were reading from the book; our imagination providing the images with the aid of narration not limited by the mouth movements of the characters, we listen as Olenska says
You couldn't be happy if it meant being cruel.
If we act any other way I'll be making you act against what I love in you the most and I can't go back to that way of thinking.
Don't you see I can't love you unless I give you up.
The camera then zooms out to reveal them in the kind of embrace Wharton probably dreamt of while writing this scene. Like the ornaments in the Countess' house, this image of them remains frozen in time, a souvenir of the love they never come to fulfill.
Today might be their birthday but The Age of Innocence sure feels like a present made for me.
Do you think Michelle and Daniel are as flawless as I think? What's your favorite thing they've done?