Tradition In The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993) is a film about love and tradition set in New York City during the 1870’s. The main character, Neulan Archer, is torn between his traditional and innocent fianc?, Mae, and her untraditional and controversial cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. In a world of family tradition and proper behavior, a woman like Ellen, seeking divorce and freedom from her cheating husband was unheard of. “This was a world balanced so precariously that it’s columns (?) could be shattered by a whisper.” Thus Archer is morally torn between following his heart, and bringing shame to himself and his family; or marrying a girl who he doesn’t truly love, just because she is good and upstanding in the eyes of New York society. This conflict is a major theme in The Age of Innocence.
Before Ellen’s arrival from Europe, “Archer was amused by the hypocrisies of his peers. He might even have envied them.” Yet he didn’t realize his own hypocrisy. He was engaged to Mae, who “was innocent of all these intrigues; and much else. She represented for Archer all that was best in their world; all that he honored. And she anchored him to it.” He himself was a hypocrite for marrying not for love, but for the sake of being safe. Mae presented no danger to him, socially or morally. Archer was also a hypocrite, because “he questioned conformity in private. But in public, he upheld family and tradition.” He also stated, that “it was less trouble to conform with tradition than to emancipate a wife who didn’t have the dimmest notion she wasn’t free.”
For Archer, who took care of both his sister and mother, it was a serious struggle to decide between what was seen to be appropriate, and what felt true in his heart. When discussing with friends and family Ellen’s marriage scandal, Archer’s company said that what she was doing was wrong. Yet Archer said, “Why shouldn’t she be conspicuous if she chooses? She made an awful marriage. But should she hide her head as if it’s her fault?” If this is how he felt, he should have given up his engagement of convenience, right? For many, the answer to this would be yes. Yet for Archer, things were not that easy. Even though the legislature supported divorce, society didn’t. Both Ellen and Archer would be social outcasts; which at the time, was something that was devastating.
In the end, tradition won over Archer; but this didn’t stop the passion between himself and the Countess. It was hard on both of them to see each other, so they avoided each other like the plague. Archer was a faithful husband and father, proving that perhaps one can disregard true love. Archer was not strong enough to break free from tradition in order to seek out a life with his true love. Even so, the conflict still burned on in his heart whenever he saw Ellen. After Mae’s death, when given the chance to see Ellen again, he walks away yet again.
In a time of moral values and traditions, it was hard to break free from society’s views. This is shown in the film The Age of Innocence with the affair between Archer and Ellen. Through Archer’s eyes, the viewer can truly see what a gut-wrenching experience this could be. Although tradition does win in the end, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a hard struggle that continues after the final decision is made.