Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet film interestingly interprets Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet play, by placing the traditional play in a modern 90’s setting. Many stylistic choices were made in this film that allowed the opposing script and setting to merge for a very unique interpretation on the story of Romeo and Juliet.
In the beginning of the film, the chorus gives an introduction, shown in the following YouTube clip.
Most other Shakespeare films do not include the chorus, but will visually describe the setting through shots and sequences that omit narrative descriptions. Luhrmann decided to keep the chorus to describe how his film would follow the traditional Shakespearian script in a modern 90’s setting. He did this by displaying the narrative in a news broadcast on an old television. The broadcaster spoke the lines from the original play, and she was composed in the manner that a news broadcaster would be on modern television of the 90’s. I found that this method of using the chorus set the scene very well for the film, allowing me to understand how the rest of the film would be portrayed, with an old Shakespearian dialogue in a modern 90’s world. Had the chorus not introduced the proceedings of the film with visual references to the 90’s, the juxtaposition of the modern times with the unmodified Shakespearian script would have created confusion between the visual setting and dialogue of the film. Luhrmann’s choice of incorporating the chorus allowed me as a viewer to seamlessly merge the Shakespearian dialogue and 90’s visual setting before the film proceeded into the story.
The next scene I would like to focus on is the scene when Mercutio is killed by Tibalt, shown in the following film clip from YouTube.
Mercutio calls his wound “a scratch” (Shakespeare, Evans, & Brooke, 1984, p. 3.1.60) when he is stabbed by Tibalt’s sword. Luhrmann, having retained much of Shakespeare’s original lines within his film, could not omit this well-known line. However, the characters all used guns rather than swords. If Mercutio had been struck by a bullet, it would have left a wound that could not be labeled as a scratch, and his death may have been shorter lived. Because of this, I believe that Luhrmann decided to have Mercutio fall into broken glass when pushed by Tibalt instead of being shot. This choice by Luhrmann allowed for Mercutio’s dialogue to remain unchanged from the traditional Shakespeare script. Mercutio could say that that the glass that impaled him left only a scratch. Mercutio’s death was also longer lived with this type of injury, rather than being shot by a bullet, which allowed him to carry out his long dialogue before his actual death. The Shakespearian script remained unchanged with this change in the means of Mercutio’s death in the film.
The last scene is after Mercutio’s death where Romeo kills Tibalt, seen in this last film clip from YouTube.
In this scene, Romeo acts out of rage after the death of Mercutio and fires multiple shots at Tibalt. I found it interesting that when Romeo shoots Tibalt, there is a sudden flash cut to Juliet. As soon as we see Juliet looking distressed, Romeo stops firing shots and has a look of realization that he was in a blind rage. This addition of Juliet to the scene allows viewers to understand that the thought of Juliet snapped Romeo out of his cloud of rage, when there was no direct dialogue explaining Romeo’s thoughts. Juliet was not directly in the scene, since later in the film we see Juliet learning about Tibalt’s death, so she was instead a part of Romeo’s thoughts. Without this cut, we would not understand why Romeo suddenly stopped firing his gun. Having Juliet flash across the screen gives viewers a brief view into Romeo’s mind, allowing viewers to understand his train of thought when he realizes the implications of his actions and the damage those actions would result for him and his star-crossed lover.
In all, I enjoyed this film, and appreciated Luhrmann’s ability to merge the script and setting in a very unique and interesting way to interpret as a viewer. It brings Romeo and Juliet into a modern light that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of viewers in the present while maintaining the integrity of Shakespeare’s script.
Shakespeare, William, G. Blakemore Evans, and Arthur Brooke. Romeo and Juliet. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984. Print.