Dr. Jessica Murphy
11 November 2019
Romeo + Juliet; and its contribution to classical literature
Often over-looked in terms of its cultural significance, William Shakespeares Romeo + Juliet (1996) in an American feature film directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague, and Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet. Needless to say, the film is an adaptation of the renowned 16th century play, Romeo and Juliet. Most are familiar with the tale of the star-crossed lovers, who upon meeting, fall helplessly in love with each other despite a long-standing feud between their families, ultimately leading to their ill-fated deaths.
Whereas the play takes place in renaissance Verona, Italy, the film is set in modern times, in a fictional city named Verona Beach. By reimagining the story in a contemporary, setting, Luhrmann demonstrates how classic literature such as Romeo and Juliet is still relevant in todays society, and resonates especially with the youth.
In an interview, Luhrmann mentions that his approach to adapting Romeo and Juliet to film was as if Shakespeare were to making a movie today.
Whereas the play takes place in renaissance Verona, Italy, the film is set in modern times, in a fictional city named Verona Beach, and filmed for the most part in Mexico. With the religion and politics of the Latin countries, Luhrmann decided that a mid-American setting fitted the plot of the story.
He says that the Capulets were more influenced by South America and the Montagues more influenced by Americana (Hawaiian shirts, American Cargo Pants).
When developing a film based on classic literature in a contemporary setting, the director must consider which elements of the original work would function within a modern context and which would not. Luhrmann plays with the idea of the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet being similar to that of power-hungry tycoons, fighting for dominance within a community. The opening-shot of Baz Luhrmanns Romeo + Juliet shows an overview of the city of Verona Beach, where crime and violence prevail. Two buildings with the names Capulet and Montague on top, tower over the citys skyline, resembling corporate buildings widely seen in todays cities, indicating a power-struggle between the Montague and Capulet family. Montague constructions (00:01:10-00:02:36) The replacement of swords with guns is an example of how he as carrying guns on a daily basis is not uncommon in today society.
The story of Romeo and Juliet and their forbidden love manifests itself in all sorts of relationship, and in the scenes mentioned above, both couples are of the same sex.
By reimagining the story in a contemporary setting, and not clarifying where or when the film takes place, Luhrmann emphasises the idea of the story being timeless. Due to the films financial success, others attempted in making their own renditions of classical fiction proving once again that films serve as way of preserving fiction.
Baz Luhrmann looking back on Romeo + Juliet (1996). YouTube, uploaded by vpro cinema, 1 July 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=icV7t_Fa_qE&list=WL&index=5&t=0s.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Fall River Press, 2013
William Shakespeares Romeo + Juliet. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Claire Danes, Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.
Moran, Rob. Baz Luhrmann marks Romeo + Juliet 20th anniversary with behind-the-scenes secrets. The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov. 2016, www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/baz-luhrmann-marks-romeo–juliet-20th-anniversary-with-behindthescenes-secrets-20161107-gsjlbn.html. Accessed 10 Nov 2019