In this fantastical version of “Romeo + Juliet” Baz Luhrmann keeps the text almost exact but sets the movie in a version of modern days. It is a version of modern days due to the weird mix up Luhrmann has going on. There is slo-motion, increases in time, weird outfits for the Montagues, plus an introduction to a crazy party with pressed pills. This blog post will discuss how Luhrmann adapts the visuals to the text to create a very interesting take on “Romeo and Juliet”.
In Act II Scene II, Luhrmann chooses to shoot the balcony scene in a pool-house. Luhrmann cuts a lot of text in this scene and instead shoots a close up kissing scene with uplifting music. This creates a more sexually charged atmosphere due to the lack of talking and added silky touching. It is clear these teens share a higher level of intimacy even though they just met at a party for what basically amounts to ‘7 minutes in heaven’ but in an elevator. Leonardo DiCaprio shows his take on Romeo as headstrong and carefree when he goes about shouting lines even though they could get caught. Luhrmann gives a true ode to Shakespeare when Claire Danes, Juliet, goes back up to her balcony and DiCaprio climbs the trellis to give her a final kiss.
Nurse in Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” is presented as much more personable and definite comic relief. Moving away from the orchard in Act II Scene V of Shakespeare, Luhrmann chooses to make the setting Nurse’s apartment. This allows the relationship between Juliet and Miriam Margolyes, Nurse, to be presented as far more intimate. Nurse ends up being more of a companion than a keeper. Danes gets right behind Margolyes to give her a massage showing their more personal take on the relationship of these two women. Margolyes is a very comical actor with exaggerated facial expressions and a very stereotypical, overly caring, Latina mama attitude. Margolyes clearly does not believe Nurse to be a prude in any way.
In contrast to Act II, which stays fairly true to Shakespeare’s timeline, Act III has been split up to create more drama around Mercutio’s death. Instead of killing Mercutio right away, DiCaprio spirals out and gets into a game of chicken which causes Tybalt to crash his car. Only after all of this and many shouted and repeated lines does DiCaprio finally shoot Tybalt. This part of the movie is cut with part of what is Act III Scene II in the play where Danes gives a bit of a monologue professing love for Romeo. This interjection of joy makes the shooting of Tybalt by Romeo more intense since Juliet’s love just killed her cousin. The music is biblical and epic or brooding and almost silent making Act III far less comical and considerably more dark than Act II.
In the end I cannot tell if I love or hate this movie. It reminds me of “Idiocracy” crossed with the part in “Back to the Future” where they actually go to the future meets “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. It is definitely weird. Not to mention the use of Shakespeare’s text in a modern setting is also odd. At the same time, Luhrmann manages to stay kind of true to Shakespeare in a really weird way. The use of such young actors and Nurse being so approachable, as well as Friar Laurence being so cool with his huge back tattoo of a cross, adds an appeal to my more contemporary tastes. It is one of those movies you would have to watch at least twice to know how you really feel.
Romeo + Juliet. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, and Miriam Margolyes, Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.
Luhrmann, Baz. “Romeo + Juliet (3/5) Movie CLIP – 1,000 Times Goodnight (1996) HD.” Youtube, uploaded by Movieclips, 9 October 2015, youtu.be/Oic7kJRg_F0?t=1m50s.