Romeo + Juliet

“Luhrman’s lack of ambiguous characters in Romeo and Juliet”

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has characters with flaws and strengths, which is what makes the characters so rich.  However, Baz Luhrman adds qualities to the characters not found in the play itself, which change the characters from ambiguous to either evil or perfect people.  Tybalt is the worst victim of Luhrman’s changes.  Tybalt, in the play, is on par with Romeo, he is no worse a person and no better.  It is inferred, through Juliet’s reaction to his death, that they were almost as close as Juliet and Romeo, if not closer because of their kinship. 

However, in the film, Luhrman adds pieces to Tybalt’s character, such as his liaison with Juliet’s mother, so that he is extraordinarily “evil.”  In the party scene, where Romeo and Juliet first meet time, Tybalt is dressed, most conspicuously, in a demon costume, with horns and a goatee.  Meanwhile, Juliet is clad in an angel costume.  The symbolism couldn’t be clearer.  Tybalt and his gang are depicted as bloodthirsty bandito types.  In the scene before he slays Mercutio, Tybalt stubbornly beats Romeo, ignoring the pleas for peace, and ends up callously stabbing Mercutio.  In the retelling of the play in the movie of West Side Story, the brawl between Bernardo, the Tybalt character, and Riff, Mercutio, is violent, but the extent to which it goes, Riff running belly first into Nardo’s knife, is accidental.  There is no calculation or satisfaction in the killing. 

In Luhrman’s version, Tybalt is shocked by what he has done, and there is almost a pitiful attitude about the young man, but there is not enough innocence played into his character throughout the rest of the movie for the audience to feel too bad about his predicament.  By clearing the borders between good and evil with his characters, and having Tybalt be the vengeful, philandering, murderous scoundrel, and depicting Mercutio as a fun-loving, loyal friend, an innocent bystander caught between the feud of two families, Luhrman manages to rid the audience of the pesky reservations about Romeo killing Tybalt.  Tybalt is evil, has been for most of the movie, he deserves no less than being shot through the heart.  In West Side Story, Riff and Nardo both have bad characteristics, but they also show heroic sides.  Riff, like Luhrman’s Mercutio, stands by his friend till the end.  Nardo, however, is given the opportunity to show his good side by his kind and protective treatment of Maria, the Juliet character.  Thus, when the two gang leaders are killed, the audience is moved by it.  The characters are all innocents forced to survive in a hateful, bigoted world. 

On the other hand, Luhrman’s Tybalt is the devil, destroying all peace treaties sought for by Juliet, the angel, and Romeo, her knight in shining armor

The religious symbolism in the movie is not only evident, but smashes the audience over the head as often as possible.  With the crucifixes, the burning hearts, the statues of the holy virgin and her holy son, there comes along the idea of good versus evil.  The Lord Almighty, God, versus his fallen angel, Satan, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness.  The Devil versus the Angel.  Thus, when the lines of morals are blurred, like with all good rounded characters, there is always a debate over who is right and who is wrong.  In Pirates of the
Caribbean, Governor Swan says, “Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, piracy itself can be the right course.”  Things in the world aren’t always black and white, at times; solutions are in the gray area.

1 thought on “Romeo + Juliet”

  1. I agree with the majority of this review. I love Luhrmann’s directing, but the script was such a departure from Shakespeare’s work, it’s worth skipping.

    To see the story of Romeo and Juliet translated to film properly, see Zeffirelli’s version –

    To see Luhrmann’s directing with a clearer eye, see Moulin Rouge – beautifully shot and written.

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