The film "the Age Of Innocence" is set in New York in the 1870's. The plot revolves primarily around a man's relationship with his wife and with another woman with whom he has fallen in love. Through this basic plot the viewer is given an insight into the nature of this culture and society and the values that were seen to be important.
Focus is placed on the significance of wealth, conformity and tradition and these are conveyed through characterization and various film techniques.
The opening scene in the Age of Innocence is set at the opera. This gives a good indication immediately of what kind of society this film will portray. From the beginning of the scene the viewer knows straightaway that this is a wealthy/aristocratic society. This is shown by the formality and ostentation of the characters appearance. The camera focuses on these obvious symbols of wealth (e.g. the elaborate jewellery) From this emphasis on material things it is obvious that this society is one that greatly values wealth.
The fact that basically this entire upper class group of the society has gone to the opera (as they do every year) shows that conformity and ritual are seen as important: to be accepted, one must conform. Anyone who does not is exposed and shunned, or gossiped about, e.g. Larry Lefferts talking about Countess Olenska. Conformity is also emphasized through the characters appearance, the way they behave (in a formal manner), and the fact that they were there at the opera mainly to be seen, rather than to enjoy the performance (e.g. Lefferts scanning the audience with his binoculars).
It can also be seen that the society values tradition and predictability. This is shown by the fact that Mrs. Julius Beaufort always leaves the opera at the same time each year, and the social set watches for this cue every year, knowing it is the signal that the annual Beaufort Ball will begin shortly.
Christian morals are also seen as important values for this society. For example, May, an unmarried young woman, is dressed in an appropriately demure fashion. In contrast, the Countess, who is a European divorcee, is dressed in a vivid blue colour. She is seen as an "outsider", someone who doesn't really belong to this society, and is gossiped about behind her back.
The Beaufort Ball itself, which occurs straight after the opera scene, is another part of the film in which the values of 1870's New York can be seen. Again, there is a focus on wealth, shown by the elaborate set, with its crystal chandeliers, drapery, exquisite tapestries, expensive floral arrangements and artwork in golden frames. The importance of conformity is emphasized by the camera zooming on Newland picking up a pair of white gloves - and then panning over a table laid with identical pairs of white gloves. This is clearly a society in which to be different risked expulsion. The comment is made that Newland "questioned conformity in private yet in public upheld family and tradition". He could not...