I finally got around to watching the movie representation of the classic novel, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. First I must say that I was very impressed and pleased by how faithful the screenplay was to the original text. Nothing seemed to be overlooked or left out. There was little to no deviation from the text’s plot. There was even a helpful narration from time to time to fill in anything that couldn’t be directly expressed in the scenes. That being said, the movie or perhaps just experiencing the story a second time, allowed me to gain new insight, understanding, and perspective.
When I first wrote about this book and its effect on me many months ago, I feel I was only taking things at face value. I was devastated at the tragedy as it unfolded before me. I saw a man and woman that loved one another, were perfectly suited for one another in fact, being kept apart by life’s trivialities and the judgement of others. I saw a sad husband and wife living a lie in silence while true love withered just beyond reach. Now I’m not so certain in my initial perception.
I think perhaps one of the unspoken messages of this book was that an inner fantasy is always better and more perfect than anything in real life could ever be. I think this is the reason why Archer walked away at the end rather than go meet Madam Olenska when finally, they could have been together. It’s truly bizarre how the span of only a few months could completely change the impression this story left on me. Now instead of being baffled and angered by Archer’s final decision, a part of me understands and feels sympathy for it. It wasn’t merely that he didn’t really love Olenska, nor that he was a coward, unwilling to take that love when it was finally held before him.
Now I see Archer as a young man, believing in that idealized love, that perfect relationship, growing slowly older and wiser throughout the course of his married and family life with May. In the end, it was worth more to him to sacrifice what would most likely be a disappointing manifestation of a youthful ideal in order to keep the perfect memory he already possessed just as it was, pristine yet unobtainable. The love he shared with Olenska, sadly could never have been realized, even if they had run away together. I think Archer, after all his years, finally understood this. Perhaps Madam Olenska, in her wise, worldly way always had. She hoped against all hope, but somehow because of her life experience, was never quite as naive as Archer in believing the life in which they would be happy together could ever truly exist.
I sincerely hope that I too will outgrow this naive image of a perfect, fated love in order to more fully enjoy and appreciate the real love in my life. And perhaps even learn to enjoy that pang of regret and curiosity for what could have been when it strikes my heart, knowing that the memories I hold, the future I imagined, will always be more lovely than the reality would have been.