Daniel Day-Lewis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence.
1993 offered yet another banner year for Day-Lewis, much like in his breakout year in 1985, through his vastly different characters he portrayed. His Oscar nominated turn as a seemingly aimless Irish youth wrongly accused of a bombing in In the Name of the Father, a performance I feel I underrated in my initial assessment, and as Newland Archer in this film a repressed American in the late 1800's. The characters could not be more different in not only the backgrounds of the characters, their stature in society in their stories, but especially in their emotional nature. It is interesting in that Newland Archer's story is not one of hardship or tragedy in the more straight forward way. He's a consistently well off individual financially yet this is an interesting story of a man being held prisoner by society in a most particular sort of fashion. It is essential then that he must be a man of the society and it must be said that if all of humanity depended on one man being sent
back in time in order to complete some mission that requires integrating
into the peoples of the past, the only man for the mission would be
Daniel Day-Lewis seems to walk right into any time period he wishes to inhabit. There is something so eloquent about this incredible ability in Day-Lewis. As, despite the evidence otherwise, it feels so effortless within his performance. Day-Lewis here seems like a man you'd see within a picture from the period. In that no facet of his very presence that feels in authentic to his setting. This of course begins with Day-Lewis's refined American accent that is stilted though in a way that alludes to a man who always seeks to conduct himself properly in society and in business. The accent though is so nicely gentle about it realizing a man of Newland's life and background with such ease. His physical manner is all part of this as again there is something in a man who is very much set within his place in society. He's strict in his manner so to speak yet there is not an inherent discomfort that Day-Lewis portrays in this either. He instead shows a man very much right where he should be merely in terms of being a man in his place in New York at this time. As usual, which what makes Day-Lewis synonymous with great acting, he makes it all so natural as it only ever serves his character.
The film itself is such an interesting period piece in the way it differs from the usual period piece given that it is directed by Martin Scorsese, a director known for his stories with more naturally volatile characters. I have to say I love Scorsese's direction here actually in that it acts as a brilliant companion to Day-Lewis's performance. The two's collaboration here is something to behold as they both in tandem realize a very particular state of being. In that both are constricted seemingly by the laws of the society of the story, yet I don't mean this is a negative sense in any way. In fact quite contrary. I love the way Scorsese's usual vibrancy is apparent yet it springs in bursts in moments where it pierces through the fabric of the tightly wound society. Day-Lewis's performance follows the same idea. Now Day-Lewis previously played what could seem like a similair character in A Room With A View. In that film he played a repressed Edwardian man. The thing is there, which was a supporting part, Day-Lewis cleverly gave a comedic performance by so effectively illustrating such intense repression. Day-Lewis's intentions here are quite different in that Newland is suppose to be the figure with empathize within the film, which could be challenge given the state of the character.
This is Day-Lewis of course that I am writing about and his greatness as an actor, is something I cannot dispute further proven by his performance here. This turn is so beautifully rendered that it is rather astonishing at times. There is never a breakdown moment in the entirety of this performance, not once. Day-Lewis stays true to the man whose greatest failing comes from the fact that he can only speak from the heart at the wrong times, and even then perhaps not with enough passion for it to matter. Day-Lewis work here is yet deeply emotional in the end. This is an intensely subtle performance as he always works within the proper confines of Newland Archer, a distant man in ways to those around him, yet he is never quite distance to us who can see his deepest thoughts through Day-Lewis's performance and some brilliant touches on Scorsese's part. Newland Archer's problems stem from his relationship with a married woman Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) and later the woman cousin May Welland (Winona Ryder). The problem being that Newland truly loves Ellen, with just a hope granted through her troubled marriage, while society expects him to marry and stay with May despite a lack of genuine affection.
I have to admit I found Day-Lewis's performance often painful watch do to so how effectively he realizes the tension of this conflict within Newland throughout the film. He makes it such a sympathetic plight through the honesty in which he presents his scenes with Pfeiffer. Day-Lewis does not present lust, rather a true longing for who seems to be his intended soul mate. One moment in particular I find especially heartbreaking is a brief fantasy of Ellen coming to embrace him, one of those small bursts of emotion given in both Scorsese's and Day-Lewis work. There is a purity that Day-Lewis brings to the moment, that is defined by love in the moment, of a few seconds. Throughout his performance Day-Lewis always maintains that truth in Newland, which is unfortunately contained by the demands of society. Day-Lewis is incredibly moving as he realizing the difficulty of essentially the act of Newland's life as he is forced to refrain his true hearts desire in order to basically please others. Day-Lewis's work is fascinating as he expresses the real emotion of the man at the end of sentences in these lapses of his refinement. The lapses being unnoticeable by others, yet we can see them through the screen. There is such a poignancy as he makes the emotions so palatable within the edges of his performance. Day-Lewis technically maintains the man of a proper stature, yet we are allowed to see the real devastation in the man as happiness is denied for one reason or another, again and again. Day-Lewis never breaks once again, yet the torture of this life is understood through those margins, of a man crying out with a stern face and sometimes even a smile. Day-Lewis so cleverly infuses these scenes with the truth, even as Newland "lies". There is a scene late where Newland is attempting to work something out to be with Ellen, yet his now wife May gives him news that forces him to abandon his dream forever. Day-Lewis never yells out, yet the loss is all in his eyes, the anguish lies within him, yet never fully breaks outwardly. The most poignant moment in the film though comes for me in the last act, that takes place many years later where Newland is technically free to see Ellen, prodded to do so by his own son yet decides not to. This is said in but a few unimportant words. All that it means to Newland is made readily apparent in Day-Lewis's work. The sadness is persuasive in his gentle looks to Ellen's balcony, suggesting the years wasted and the despair of man recognizing that his dream was just that, only a dream. I found this to be such a powerful piece of work by Daniel Day-Lewis that proves not only his ability to craft this representation of a person from any period, to also more importantly give them real humanity and life.