Baz Lurhman’s 1997 production of the film Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, is a modern day interpretation of William Shakespeare’s tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet. Old Shakespearian language is used in this modern day interpretation but the setting is contemporary, In contrast to its Elizabethan origin. The film is set in the futuristic Urban American backdrop of Verona Beach and follows the lives of two separate families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s who are constantly feuding and fighting with each other.
Juliet is from the Capulet family who are a Latin-American-Mexican ethnic group and are dark featured, speak with accents and are surrounded by idols of Catholicism. Romeo of the Montague’s is from an Anglo-Saxon Protestant working class family depicted in the film as beach and surfer gangs. Romeo and Juliet cause more conflict between the two feuding families when their love for each other is found out.The plot involves a tense build up of hatred between these families and deepens when the main characters, Romeo of the Montague’s and Juliet of the Capulet’s fall in love leading to a tragic finale. The film is both exciting and intense and involves various emotions such as anger, hatred, pride but most of all love. The class differences, and ethnic conflicts between the Montague’s and Capulet’s make up a large part of the main body of Lurhman’s production, with use of gang and mob Godfather references which highlight this.
Throughout the scenes depicting the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the Capulet party, and the final meeting when Romeo enters the church seeing Juliet laid out on her deathbed, Baz Lurhman cleverly uses various media techniques and production devices to draw the audience into the storyline and creates a symbolic meaning with these techniques for the audience to relate to.The director Baz Lurhman introduces the main characters during the scenes at the Capulet ball but firstly shows the audience a close up shot with the camera facing upwards at Romeo’s face through a washing bowl, allowing the audience to see him in a distorted environment, possibly showing us the fractured nature of the society in the film. At this point a his masquerade eye mask falls into the water and sinks symbolising that he is leaving his old identity behind and washing away the past to start fresh.
The water being pure expresses to the audience a cleansing process. Continuing with the use of water and purity the director cleverly uses a large fish tank as a prop to separate the two lovers on their first meeting after Romeo has washed his face in this scene. There is a sense of calm with soft blues and yellows in the colour of the fish and the clarity of the water in the tank which although transparent still remains an obstacle between the two lovers and keeps them separated.Lurhman uses water to represent a change of mood and in this scene uses it as a sexual image as DiCaprio and Danes eyes catch glimpses of each other through the water although at this point they can not touch each other. Lurhman is conveying that the barrier is really transparent.
Even their faces are mirrored in the glass. The costumes used for the main characters are a metallic suite of armour depicting a medieval knight for Romeo and a pure white angelic dress with wings attached for a celestial being.Romeo’s costume would indicate that he was Juliet’s knight in shining armour and her saviour and in contrast Juliet was an angelic like being and a pure virgin. DiCaprio whisks Danes into an elevator to steal a private moment where they can share a kiss and Lurhman the director uses this as a focal point in this scene with clever camera use as the camera moves 360 degree’s around the characters as they kiss, which has a dizzying effect symbolising their magical feelings and emotions at their first kiss.The interior design of the elevator in pure white and gold keeps with the theme of Claire Danes in her angelic costume because with the clever spinning shots in the white backdrop of the elevator it projects a heavenly theme, and as the doors of the elevator close a sense is given to the audience of closing of from all of the evils of the outside world and its distorted society.In contrast Baz Lurhman completely changes the mood from the closeness of the couple in the elevator and distances them from one another cleverly using a staircase as a prop to place DiCaprio completely opposite Danes using a high angle shot emphasising to Romeo that Juliet position in society is much higher than his and that there is clearly a divide between them.In contrast to the fish tank scene the two lovers are now separated by the staircase whereas although the fish tank was a barrier at their first meeting they where still on the same physical level so we can see how thee director uses height and props to establish class difference when he needs to.
The sound effects used relate directly to what’s happening at the time. In the opening of the Capulet ball when Romeo is drugged and in a confused state, Lurhman uses an escalating sound score as well as spinning camera work to highlight Romeo’s mixed state of mind at the time.The volume of the music increases with his confusion and only calms when DiCaprio drops his face into a bowl of water to come to his senses. In contrast the music is completely the opposite at the fish tank scene when the lovers are looking at each other through the water and with soft misty colours and music to match the director draws the audience into a more sensuous state of mind. In the final meeting from the moment when Romeo enters the church to see Juliet laid out on her deathbed there is an overpowering eerie feeling which the director achieves using a number of different media techniques and devices.One of these is the use of lighting which begins with a close up shot of Romeo’s face glimpsing through the church door with everything else around him in darkness, with just a shred of light leading to his beloved Juliet and the soft muted glow coming from the many candles positioned in the church at different height levels eventually leading to an elevated bed where Juliet’s sleeping body lies.
The dimness of the lighting reflects the sadness in this scene and softens the features of the characters and their surroundings. Lurhman uses the lighting and soft music in this scene to contrast with the more violent parts of the movie showing that when this couple are alone with each other and no other influences is when they are most at peace. The director uses close up shots and extreme close up shots in this scene to show both fear and sadness in the two main characters at this the worst moment of their lives.The audience can relate to the emotions that the main characters are feeling at this tragic time because of these close up shots.
Baz Lurhman also uses slow motion to emphasise dramatic moments such as the scene where Juliet is picking up the gun to kill herself this is enhanced with the music silencing at the same time and so the audience is completely captured in this moment as it awaits the climax of the tragic scene.In the final flashback scene Lurhman uses small clippings from the lives of the two lovers together and shows the divide is finally broken between the two families but also that the two main characters can finally be together in death with no prejudice which he emphasises with a small recap scene of the two of them falling into water together and embracing, no longer having a barrier between them.In conclusion we can see that Baz Lurhman has used costumes, colours, various lighting moods, props, both character positioning and camera positioning as well as the all important sound track to create both atmosphere and symbolic meaning so that the audience can relate to this beautiful and timeless love story.