William Shakespeare’s classic, “Romeo and Juliet” (c. 1595) was transformed into the film “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) directed by Baz Luhrmann. The play was set in Verona, Italy (the Renaissance period). The film blends contemporary setting and characters with Shakespeare’s poetic dialogues. It was shot at Verona Beach, Los Angeles.
Shakespeare’s quintessential tragedy portrays love and hatred irrational. The film escalates the importance of these themes by using more physicality and sensuality. However, both composers depict how hatred was built by the love for their families and love was denied by the hatred between them.
The important scenes of love are Act I Scene V where Romeo meets Juliet and the balcony scene (Act II Scene II). Act III Scene I (fight scene) is a significant scene of hatred.
These ideas are presented using various language forms and features in the play and using film techniques in the movie.
The play, “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare represents love as boundless and immortal. It is neither restricted by enmity nor forsaken for conflict. Eventually, love terminates grudge. The protagonists – Romeo and Juliet in the meeting scene and the balcony scene portray love. The perspectives of love are predominantly present through metaphors and imagery.
In the balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet express their unconditional love for each other.
Juliet says, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.” The use of the simile helps the audience to perceive that her love for Romeo is deep and profound like the sea. Like the vast, unimaginable expanse of the sea, her true feelings for Romeo cannot be quantified. Juliet draws a comparison with nature that signifies purity. The star-crossed lovers sacrifice their lives for their parents’ feud just as nature serves and sacrifices for others.
In the meeting scene, Romeo says “If I profane with my unworthiest hand, This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand, To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss”. He calls Juliet a saint as she is not only his lover but also his god. Romeo uses strong religious imagery to describe how sacred Juliet was. Religious references again symbolise purity and divinity. In the olden days, god was considered the most powerful and irrational. No human behaviour could control his actions. Similarly, by describing Juliet sacred and godly, Romeo expresses that his love is holy and no enmity can separate them.
The idea of love as fire and fumes juxtaposes it being holy. Love has the same nature as fire. Love is endless, just like fire, which has no limit and keeps burning. The metaphor used by Romeo, “Love is a smoke made with fume of sighs; Being purged, a fire sparkling in lover’s eyes;” is evidence of this perspective of love. Metaphors are succinct but imply great meaning. They provide a stronger description with a lasting impact on the audience.
Romeo has used a range of metaphors in his soliloquy to compare Juliet’s splendour with nature and other beings. Along with that, visual imagery is used to enhance the audience’s perception. It gives the reader a visual picture that is unforgettable. Romeo says, “So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, As yonder lady o’er her fellow shows” in the meeting scene. The contrast made with white doves and black crows easily distinguishes Juliet’s beauty from the others. Symbolism is also used to develop a fondness for the character. Doves are a symbol of love and peace. Likewise, Juliet and Romeo were indirect peacemakers.
Therefore, love is depicted eternal using various language forms and features in the play. And, hatred is suppressed by expressing love.
In the film, “Romeo + Juliet” the perspectives of love are presented partially as the play. Love is depicted infinite using film techniques like motifs and cinematography. The film also conveys that love is pure and divine using more physicality for a contemporary audience.
Romeo and Juliet meet each other in the bathroom near a fish tank, unlike the play. The water in the tank is a motif for holiness and innocence in love. A motif is a symbol that supports the storyline and establishes a theme or mood. The fish pond behaves like a bridge between the lovers. In the play, Romeo states that Juliet is sacred; therefore, even his love is divine. Baz Luhrmann uses this visual technique to reproduce the same effect.
Again, when the couple get plunged into the swimming pool; water becomes the motif of their love. It provides a romantic environment where they develop feelings for each other. Water also increases the sensuality of the scene. The lovers are purged from their family feud as water has cleansing properties. They forget the havoc above their secret underwater world as love was not forbidden here. Along with the motif, the gradual movement of the camera around them creates a relaxed sensation. The film practically depicts how the fondness for each other was immeasurable like the sea; however, in the play, Juliet expresses this through words.
The cinematography in the elevator scene depicts Romeo and Juliet heavenly. When they passionately kiss each other, the camera revolves around them. The dolly shot allows the viewer to feel a certain intimacy with a character, and feel more present in the scene. The elevator levitates them into their eternal world of love. Also, the lighting of the scene adds onto to the dreamy atmosphere. The play uses religious imagery to show the sanctity in love. The lighting and filming magnify the effect in the movie.
Paris and Juliet dance at the ball as Romeo watches from afar. Juliet feels uncomfortable and tries to throw glances at Romeo. Luhrmann has used the costuming of the characters to reflect their roles. Costuming is the best way to express the individuality of the characters. Paris is dressed an astronaut to symbolise his wealth and popularity. However, he is not heavenly. Romeo is the ‘knight in shining armour’ to rescue Juliet from her constrained lifestyle at the Capulet household. No one can easily woo Juliet thus she is depicted angelically. The film clearly distinguishes the title characters from others, unlike the play where this effect is almost obscure.
Therefore, the perspectives of love in the film are presented more sensual using cinematic techniques than the play.
In the play, hatred is considered illogical as it was developed by the affection for their households. The composer has used the context of the play to depict how honour had crucial importance in their lives. Preserving one’s dignity was the ultimate reason for violence. So, honour and hatred were inextricable from their souls.
The antagonist (Tybalt), Mercutio and Romeo in the fight scene represent hatred. There are a variety of literary devices that encapsulate these perspectives.
Visual imagery is used to appeal to the reader’s visual insight. In the introductory scene (Act I Scene I), Tybalt says, “What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee”. Tybalt refuses to talk of peace after drawing his sword as he considers it an insult to the Capulets. Moreover, the relation of the Montagues to hell describes how hatred for them intricately was bound with their souls. Their rivalry was a part of the social fabric.
Romeo says, “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love. Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate” in the same scene. The oxymoron produces a dramatic effect and provokes the reader’s thought. Attachment and love are more powerful than hate. Actions of love can either reinforce conflict or suppress it. Shakespeare skilfully evokes the idea of how love enhances hatred in that situation.
Mercutio was Romeo’s best friend. When Tybalt murders him, peaceful Romeo becomes victim to uncontrolled anger. Romeo is compelled to give up his calm nature and fight for his friendship as well as masculine honour. Love and affection distinctly force humans to react violently. Personification makes non-living things appear more relevant to the audience by pertaining to human qualities. In the fight scene Romeo says, “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!” that presents the perspective of hatred.
Metaphors are a dominant technique in the play. They develop pictures in the reader’s mind and have an enduring impact even though they are concise. Mercutio says, “They have made worms’ meat of me” in the same scene. Mercutio was offended more than the Montague family by Tybalt’s insult to Romeo. Again, for preserving his dignity and for the true friendship for Romeo, he shed his blood. He describes how he would become food for the worms after being buried.
Enmity is portrayed as irrational. Preserving masculinity and their family honour was the major reason for hatred and brutality. These perspectives of hatred are presented using various literary devices.
The themes of hatred are presented wholly in the film as well. The film emphasises the importance of honour for their families. It also depicts how violence for honour can be fatal. There is more commotion in the movie than the play. These themes are displayed using motifs, pathetic fallacy and filming.
The fight scene between Mercutio, Romeo and Tybalt shows how fighting to preserve their pride leads to brutal killing. Fast paced editing and the background music increases tension and excitement. Editing builds suspense and emotional connection with the audience. Music is a powerful tool in creating and enhancing the vigorous mood and atmosphere. The play has the same pace as all the other scenes. The film constantly changes the pace and music of each scene to maintain the thrill.
When Romeo chases Tybalt, the camera focuses on the tattoo of Jesus Christ on Abra. This close-up shot shows how love also played a critical role in cruelty. Along with the close-up, slow motion added to the drama and gives time for the viewer to carefully analyse its importance. The film repeatedly uses religious imagery by showing idols of Jesus and shrines. The repetition of imagery in the film shows how religion and love for god were supposed to promote peace but actually, it encouraged killing. Religious imagery is less eminent in the play.
In the scene where Romeo shoots Tybalt, a storm following heavy rain occurs. The storm is a symbol of violence and sadness. Pathetic fallacy is used to relate nature or non-living objects with human emotions and traits. Luhrmann manifests the emotional intensity of Tybalt’s death with a turbulent storm. It widens the viewer’s empathy. The extended close up again focuses on Romeo’s wrongdoing. Romeo kills Tybalt for his friend, Mercutio’s death. Thus, love made him slaughter his enemy. The death of Mercutio and Tybalt was set in the same scene in the play. The continuous commotion in the scene reduced its severity and the extraordinary effect. The film, however, splits the death scenes, therefore, building tension. And, the impact is enduring.
Water was a motif of purity and love until Romeo killed Tybalt. The continuation of the killing scene, Tybalt falls into the previously unseen pond. The blood flows into the water, and symbolically Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is now tarnished by the deaths and the family’s hatred. The scene is set in the late evening when it’s dark. The key lighting is low, creating a dark and sad mood. The audience can understand that their love is tainted and Romeo’s life is ruined. The play has less impact as the death of Tybalt is not stressed as it is in the movie.
Therefore, the film presents the same perspectives as the play but, with everlasting impact. The film uses more fierceness as well as religious iconography.
Love and hatred are universal themes in the play Romeo and Juliet and the film, Romeo + Juliet. Both texts convey that hatred arose from love and love was forbidden by hatred. The scenes that showed love are the meeting scene and the balcony scene. Hatred is depicted in the fight scene.
Love and enmity are both unreasonable. Love is not disowned for violence and actually, terminated animosity. The perspectives of love are presented partially in the film. The film focuses more on the innocence and purity in love.
Preserving masculinity was the main reason for hatred. Also, dignity was inevitable in their lives. These ideas of hate are presented wholly in the film.
Baz Luhrmann’s film was an aggressively modern and dynamic transformation of the play. The rich Elizabethan language along with modern context easily entertained the audience.
These themes were presented using various language forms and features in the play and using film techniques in the movie.