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film adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1920 novel of the same name, which is set amongst aristocrat New Yorkers in the 1870s. The return of the beautiful Countess Ellen Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.
Introduction Before writing this review I decided to find out a bit more about Edith Wharton (since she’s the author of the novel which the film was adapted from). If you turn to the Wikipedia page (not exactly hardcore research, I know but I'm not in a position to march off to the library and start wading through Wharton's presumably numerous biographies) you'll be faced with a picture of a timid and pretty dour looking lady with two disagreeable looking Paris-Hilton porta-dogs plunked on her knee. Don't let appearances fool you ladies and gentlemen, for Wharton was a regular social and creative dynamo; designer, socialite, writer, Knight (Chevalier of the legion of honor for her work in France during the war) there was no stopping this woman. So back to The Age of Innocence. What's it all about? Mostly about how being young, rich and desirable and mixing with the cream of society isn't all it is cracked up to be. Why? Well because high society is actually incredibly dull. In order to set themselves apart from the grubby minions who do the dishes, drive the coaches and actually work for a living, "society" set about creating a set of hideously constrictive rules and moral guidelines which sap the joy, happiness, fun, freedom of expression and general day to day life out of everyone involved. It is incredibly ironic that everyone then strives to get accepted into this set when everyone who's already there is so damned miserable most of the time. In fact, the characters are unhappy with their lot and lead a treading-on-eggshells existence because they're terrified out of their wits about any kind of scandal. Obviously scandal of sorts does ensue but everyone deals with it very nicely, calmly and diplomatically without any mudslinging.
Character Analysis Appearing to be innocent, May is instead ingenious; although she seems self-effacing and is often accused of being vague, May is more astute and insightful, not to mention determined and dangerous to Newland’s love for Ellen, than he imagines possible for a woman of her position. It’s not Newland and Beaufort deciding who will get Newland, but Ellen and May deciding who will get Newland. It is perhaps May’s greatest achievement that she wins him, and it is perhaps the greatest favor she could possibly have done for Newland. Newland’s inability to act on his desires are more than problematic for both characters, with increasing frequency and emphasis as the movie progresses, we see that both acquiescence and refusal prove in some measure disastrous for all of those involved. Especially dangerous is the fact that he regards both women as creatures who do not act, but who are acted upon. This is a grave error on Newland’s part. Newland’s family name is Archer, but we recall that it is May who hits the bullseye in the archery contest at Newport. Archer is, in effect, the target. It is the male character that functions at the center of a social and sexual exchange. May has, throughout the novel, been a convenience for Newland, and not only because she keeps his household running. She becomes the screen onto which he projects all of his own petty concerns and narrow beliefs: she is the repository for all he wishes to discard from his own personality but which he nevertheless needs to cling to. She becomes his nicer self, his better half - better insofar as she assumes all the responsibility for convention and so he can do all the radical stuff himself. Onto Ellen, Newland projects his desire for the exotic (as portrayed by their actions, a nonverbal body communications hinted in the film); onto May, he projects his need for the domestic. It’s not that these two women are really that far apart, but Newland needs to see them as diametrically opposed; they represent his own conflicted desires. Both want the same thing: to be accepted into society, to feel safe, and to have Newland as the central male figure in their sexual and romantic lives. Ellen continues to stand outside the social order even when invited in; she remains uninitiated, inassimilable, and unreliable. She is dangerous because she cannot be counted upon to play her part; she threatens the social order because she is willing to risk leaving the system in order to be free from it. Ellen seems to be the dangerous, adult orphan, the not-so-young woman of unsettled social standing. Ellen, whose life in Europe hints not only at a failed marriage but at lovers, is presented by the movie as, paradoxically, the most innocent of figures. It is Ellen who believes that New York, with its streets so straightforwardly labeled, will itself be easy to decipher. Newland, too, is innocent believing himself to be a man of the world who understands not only New York but the ways of life of adult men and women, he discovers that he is being played like a harp by those figures he once dared hold in contempt. Furthermore, symbolically, Newland is the archer whose target is a "new land" in which he and Ellen can be together. The pity is that, ultimately, May proves to be the more cunning
huntress who cleverly hunts and traps her quarry in the labyrinth of society. Only May - with her naïve, apparently unrehearsed simplicity - understands how the system really operates. May is no innocent; she gets her way in the end. Despite their passion, intelligence, and perspective, Ellen and Newland are the innocent ones here. They find themselves sacrificed to a world which, in today’s time, no longer exists. Having been born “in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs” the lovers cannot translate their relationship into terms both understandable and viable. Newland settles for the life scripted for him since birth, worshipping at the shrine of Ellen’s memory and using the idea of her as an inoculation against any genuine intimacy in his life. Ellen carves a destiny of her own, and creates a life of quiet heroism and integrity. Each watches, from a different corner, the passing of an age. They do not mourn its passing. The title is, indeed, an ironic comment on the polished outward manners of New York society, when compared to its inward machinations.
Communication Analysis I guess the best model that could represent (or explain) the communication system in the movie is David Berlo’s Model:
S SOURCE Communication Skill Knowledge Attitude Sociocultural System M MESSAGE Element Structure Content Treatment C CHANNEL Seeing Hearing Touching Smelling Tasting R RECEIVER Communication Skill Knowledge Attitude Sociocultural System
According to Berlo’s model, source and receiver are influenced by their personal makeup of three factors: knowledge, attitude and communication skills. A fourth influence is the sociocultural system of the communicators. Berlo acknowledges the complexity of the communication process as evidenced by the influence of several factors on communication (as seen in the table), to include an all-encompassing system - the communicator’s sociocultural framework. And the movie is set among New York City's upper class of the 1870s, before the advent of electric lights, telephones or motor vehicles, there was a small cluster of aristocratic families that ruled New York's social life. To those at the apex of the social world one's occupation or abilities were secondary to heredity and family connections, and one's reputation and outward appearance was of foremost importance. That is the sociocultural system that greatly affects the kind of communication the characters have.
At more than two hours of watching the film, it has allowed enough time to include long stretches of painfully wearisome society functions and banter. As a period piece, it's a joy to behold, but with such an indecisive little newt of a protagonist, it's just hard to give a damn what happens. Watching the movie reminds me of the importance of having a common field of experience in order for the communication to be successful, as highlighted in Schramm’s second model:
It was indeed challenging not to fall asleep the entire session, given the fact that it was way too boring since it was set in oldies’ time. As a teenager of this modern world, our common field of experience with the characters there is only what we have learned in our history lessons. In addition, having to watch The Age of Innocence made me realize my major strengths and weaknesses as a listener (in relation to watching the movie). Honestly, I believe I have more of weaknesses than strengths as a listener. Simply because as I enumerate the barriers in effective listening, it seems like I’ve been doing those most of the time. Those are: calling the topic uninteresting or boring which I prejudged most of the time; concentrating on details not on main idea which always happen to me specially if I’m cramming to write all the information just to have complete notes but then not understanding at all; failing to adjust to distractions, yes, I really get easily out of focus; and faking attention which is my favorite past time, just kidding, well actually oftentimes. Admitting the above things, I presume I should take into consideration the different guides to effective listening. First, I should try to listen to difficult material like exposing self to various types in order to expand my range of aesthetic(just like the movie itself). Second, I should determine the purpose of the speech and put in mind why I am listening. Third, I should create an interest in the subject like keeping in mind that I could learn something valuable which might be useful in the future. Fourth, I should try to adjust to the speaker if I encounter those barriers since I am not the only listener, there are others too which I have to take into consideration. Fifth, I should keep my emotions in check, check. In the end, if I had been brought up in high society like that in the movie, I would have probably had to kick off my satin slippers and throw myself under the wheels of the first passing horse and carriage as soon as I entered adulthood. Who would want to live in such constrained times? Definitely not me.
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