Features and Columns · Movies

Revisiting ‘The Age of Innocence’ in the Age of Social Distancing

While we’re all keeping at a distance: one of the greatest films ever made about frustrated desire and the power of touch.
The Age of Innocence
Columbia Pictures
By  · Published on April 13th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. This entry looks at Martin Scorsese’s now especially relevant adaptation of The Age of Innocence. 


We always bring some part of ourselves to a film. Which, of course, is bad news for objectivity and, more pressingly, for those of us seeking a cinematic reprieve from the existential ankle weights of what’s actually going on in our lives. It’s just a fact: present circumstances can be unrelenting in their hold on the way we perceive films. Especially in times like these, when dire straights seem to hang oppressively over every single aspect of the way we move through the world.

And yet, when it comes to watching films, there is a gentler and perhaps more poetic consequence to being unable to fully dissociate from one’s current situation. You notice things. Details, which read differently in the light of pressing predicaments. Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence is rarely the first film mentioned when you invoke the director’s catalog. However, it is an opulent, sensual masterpiece. Set in the hyper-repressed environment of aristocratic late 19th-century society, the film is a bounty of distant glances and arms-length desire, where the fantasy of merely grazing someone’s hand is the most intimate thing imaginable. Where stroking something they’ve touched suddenly becomes an erotic, taboo act.

“The Age of Emptiness,” explores the resonances between Scorsese’s film and our current era of social distancing. The video essay, which begins with a reminder that The Age of Innocence takes place on the precipice of the Spanish Flu, offers an elegy of the film’s wistful, human-devoid moments, the presence of touch, and the underpinned longing in the handling of things, surfaces, and people, best kept at a distance.

You can watch “The Age of Emptiness” here:

Who made this?

Oswald Iten is a Swiss freelance illustrator, animator, and film critic. You can browse his back catalog of video essays on his Vimeo page. You can find Iten’s official website, which includes his catalog of illustrations and animation showreels, here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).