In this essay I intend to justify the use ofmis-en-scene as it is employed in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Shakespeare’splay Romeo and Juliet not as mereaids for background and setting but as meaningful and important drivers to showcasehis original work and interpretation of the play regarding social and moralissues. Luhrmann provides strong visual images as a medium to represent thestrong and powerful use of language that Shakespeare invokes through hiswriting to talk about contemporary issues. Despite the story of Romeo andJuliet being over 500 years old, it is as relevant and appealing today as itwas when first performed notwithstanding differences in morals and valuesbetween Shakespeare’s audience 500 years ago and contemporary audience. Althoughdated, the story of the two lover’s still holds great appeal to this daybecause of many underlying topics that transcend time such as order andauthority, fate, and love.
Byreading Shakespeare’s original play, the audience can get a sense of theimportance and concerns reflected in the Elizabethan era in relation to authority,law and order. A characteristic that was well received by the audience of thetime given the similar morals and values shared, as well as, appealing andentertaining the masses. For instance, Shakespeare explores the consequences ofconfronting authority that leads to order breaking down in society demonstratedthrough character’s disobedience. Which ultimately results in the tragic deathof the Romeo, Juliet, and of many others. When analyzing the play, manycharacters confronted authority or were disobedient in some way, with the majorrule breakers being Romeo and Juliet. For example, both deceived their parentsby getting married without their permission, Juliet faked her death in order tonot marry Paris, and Romeo committed the most punishable crime by taking away Tybalt’slife. Other characters also defied authority, for instance, the Montague andCapulet boys went against orders of the Prince by continuing violent actionsthroughout the city of Verona even after his ultimatum.
Even the Friar and theNurse broke the rules because they helped the young couple get married andaided them with their controversial actions. The simple solution to this chaosthat Shakespeare offers is just to be obedient by respecting authority, law andorder. A reflection of the morality and values of the time. Otherwise, as seen throughoutthe play, Shakespeare makes sure that all disobedient actions are punished fortheir sins. “All are punished!” –The Prince of Verona (5.
3.13). In a sense, Romeo and Juliet is an excellent representativeof how important obedience was at the time; in addition to exhibit commonshared morals for the Elizabethan era and consequences of disobedience andviolence. In contrast, Luhrmann’s modern take onthe play also deals with authority. However instead of displaying morals commonto our time or offering solutions to today’s society issues, he provides a veryunique and artistic viewpoint on modern society. From his point of view, as shownin the movie, the world is very fast-paced, focused mainly on wealth and power –although this is true to this day,- and less focus on true core values thatmakes us human such as love and compassion. This general perspective of societyis represented throughout the film by bird’s-eye view/elevated shots of the cityof Verona involving violent chaotic scenes such as police raids, gang shootings,and other violent actions.
The scenes are generally quick and very vivid withthe camera constantly moving and changing quickly to emphasize the chaoticnature of the scenes. This film is great example of MTV style of editing, alsoknown as post-classical editing, which is known for its non-linear cuts thatemphasize location, mood and feeling over character and plot development.1Furthermore, the intense violence portrayed in many scenes is similar to the originalplay as intended, given that violence plays a key role in the play since itputs in display the transformation and shortfall of morals of many maincharacters as the plot progresses. The first scene that the audience hason the City of Verona is an extreme long-shot of the city revealing a giantreligious statue of Jesus in the center of the city and as the camera zooms inthe audience is introduced to the two family households. The City of Verona isdominated by two prominent skyscrapers and major business owners, Montague andCapulet. As the camera starts to fade in, the camera focuses in the foregroundof two photographs of Old Montague and Old Capulet separated by the same statueof Jesus, which insinuates and paves the way for future religious referenceslater on the film.
The two prominentskyscrapers are symbols of wealth and power. The separation between the two bythe statue of Jesus can be interpreted as a barrier protecting the city from aclash of the families that are filled with hatred towards each other. Following theintroduction of the two name households, the violence is crystallized when thefilm introduces the Montague and Capulet boys in the gas station scene.Luhrmann intelligently uses the audiences’ preconceived notions about certain groupsin society to have an opinion on characters even before they are furtherexplored later on the film. For example, the first shot of Tybalt is focused onhis cowboy boots which emphasizes a Western vibe to his character, and this isfurther supported with western-style music playing in the background.
TheMontague boy are wearing open Hawaiian shirts and shorts in a convertible carrepresenting their surf shack style of living; laid-back living by the water.2Whereas the Capulet boy are a complete contrast. In contrast to this style isthe arrival of the Capulet boys.
They dress in a more conservative manner,wearing suits and tight pants and looking more serious in comparison to theMontague boys. These contrasting appearances and behavior of the two groups areeasily seen throughout the film by the good use of visual techniques from thedirector to showcase the incompatibility between the two families. Movingalong into the next topic of fate. During Shakespeare’s time people wereobsessed with the notions of fate and to what degree we have control over ourlives. Another key reason to the success of the play.
This is seen throughoutthe play with various premonitions and foreshadowing that inevitably come intoreality and result in the deaths of Romeo, Juliet and other major characterssuch as Mercutio. As a result of such, this leads the audience to believe thatthe two young lovers’ outcome has already been determined even before the startof the play and that Romeo and Juliet have to die in order to finally bringpeace to Verona. For instance, in the famous balcony scene, Juliet seems tohesitate for a moment as she realized that their increasing attraction andpassion towards each other seem to be growing too fast and warns Romeo that itwould be ‘unadvised’ to rush things. Later on, Romeo dreams of himself lyingdead as Juliet lays next to him.
Furthermore, the Friar also warns Romeo aboutrushing his marriage by saying to him “those stumble who run fast (2.3.100),” buteventually gives up as he sees that the two are desperately in love. These are just some examples of foreshadowingthat things were not going to progress the way the young lovers wanted, butalso goes to show that they are responsible for the actions that lead to theirtragic deaths. Even though there not that many circumstance in the play thatchance plays a major role the concept is still present to some degree. Forinstance, it is only by chance that the Capulet’s messenger, who is almost illiterate,asks Romeo for assistance with the invitation list. At the end, it was Romeo’sdecision to attend the ball and if he would not have attended the ball none ofthis would have transpired.
This just goes to show how we are still able tomake our own decisions that can affect our lives. A very interesting aspect ofsuch, is the contrast between religious symbolism and disobedience of manycharacters in the film. Luhrmann’s usage of religious symbols and icons areseen from the very first scene of the film when the audience is introduced withthe statue of Jesus and the crucifixes symbols in the opening credits. What ismore interesting is that the audience is forced to focus is some sort ofreligion symbolism before a violent act occurs. The director does this byzooming in into objects and having a still shot until the frame is cut and thecamera tilts up to a medium shot of a character. The beginning of the gasstation scene stands out in this way, as it shows both groups wearing orcarrying some sort of religion icon, such as having the image of the VirginMary engraved on all the guns shown in the scene.
The contrast between religionand violence show that both groups are aware of Christian morals. Hence, theyknow of what is right and wrong, but they choose to behave in a way that is completelyopposite to how they should be. Religious symbolism is present throughout the entirefilm, and even more so at the end of the film. 1 http://hollywoodlexicon.com/mtvstyle.html2 https://www.1stdibs.com/blogs/the-study/surfboards-in-interior-design/