“Romeo and Juliet” is both a film about love and tragedy, and the war and peace between the two rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets. All of this love, tension and emotion are shown through Shakespeare’s play with words and emotive language to truly bring their feelings alive. From his extended metaphors of water, light, religion and heaven, Shakespeare really shows their passion and devotion for each other; this is what Luhrmann really picks up on and utilises as his inspiration for his film version of this well known play and is why Shakespeare’s language is so important to the overall feel, character and artistic visual of the film; from the symbols to the seemingly unplanned movement of characters in a scene.
In Act 2 Scene 2 of the play Shakespeare used the theme of light to show the bright and fiery love Romeo sees in her. “Oh speak again Bright Angel”, Romeo describes Juliet as he talks to her in the “light through yonder window breaks?” Throughout this scene Shakespeare uses many metaphors to show this brightness and love Romeo sees in Juliet; “Juliet is the sun”, “Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon”; both quotes show the love Romeo sees in her, but talking about her as so bright, and such a marvelous and great thing as the sun.
I also think this metaphor tells us something about Romeo’s character; the sun is what gives life to almost all living things, and in this case, it is Juliet that brings Romeo to life; after all goes from being miserable, moaning about his unrequited love for Rosaline, of when “he jests at scars that never felt a wound”, but when he sees and meets Juliet, his whole attitude towards love, and what love is changes.
It is as though someone had the turned the light on for him or switched true love “on”. This sudden change in Romeo is like a new life for him, as though Juliet, “the sun”, gave him it.
In the film “Romeo + Juliet”, Luhrmann interprets this in many different ways. When we first see Juliet in the Capulet mansion’s garden, Juliet appears first from the bright light of her bedroom window; a quite literal interpretation of “What light through yonder window breaks?” But the metaphor of Juliet as the sun is carried throughout the scene. At all times in this scene, Juliet’s face is lit up “fair” even when talking to Romeo at eye level; from the bright lights beneath the pool and the glimmering moonlight bouncing off the reflective water. I feel the brightness upon her face really shows how Luhrmann interpreted Shakespeare’s words. Furthermore, like the sun which sets and rises, Juliet also does the same at the start and the end of the play. In the night, when the sun has set, Juliet comes down from her bedroom window via the brightly lit elevator.
This shows that Juliet, the sun, has set; and this is emphasised by the strong light from within. The sun has set. In contrast, to the end of the play, when “’tis almost morning”, Juliet immediately rises back up the long stair case, like the sun rising for the new day. Also, this idea of the sun setting and rising could be, in my opinion, an enemy to their love. Romeo and Juliet’s relationship can not be found out, because of the hazardous consequences of the rival families. On the other hand the sun is like the light which could find them out, the reason they must meet in the dark; Juliet’s position in the Capulet household, one of importance, means if Romeo is seen, he is a dead man for sure.
Shakespeare’s language mentions a lot about water; of Romeo’s willingness to sail the greatest seas to find her “I am no pilot, yet were thou as far as that vast shore washed with the farthest sea, I should adventure”. Juliet responds to this by describing her love as “boundless and deep as the sea”. These references to water in the play are all metaphors; they describe their love, and what they will do for their love, but Luhrmann interprets this use of water in a different more creative and interesting route, turning into a different metaphor, for purity and purification.
Romeo and Juliet’s love, unlike Romeo’s love for Rosaline, is pure. They love each other, and their love is very true. This is shown in the film in two stages from when they first meet. Romeo dunks his head in water to symbolise the purification of the drugs within him; before he is all flustered and hallucinogenic, but after he is clean, pure and free thinking. Then later on, this purity is intensified and emphasised when they meet, looking into each other’s eyes through a tank of water. This initial establishment of water being for purification, combined with them first meeting through a barrier of water, I feel, shows how Luhrmann uses water.
The soul purpose of the water is to show that Romeo and Juliet’s love is pure, simple, and most importantly, clear. This idea of water is used in Luhrmann’s version of Act 2ii also. In the middle of Luhrmann’s version of the Capulet orchard, their garden, there is a large swimming pool, radiating with light from within. This once again shows the purity of love they feel for each other. Later on in the scene, Romeo hides beneath the water, from being saved from the guard’s view. I feel this tells us Luhrmann’s own personal view of love. I believe, with this action, he is telling us that if love is pure, nothing will get in the way, and the love will live on, protected and safe, as Romeo is hidden from his enemies with the water, symbolizing that the purity of their love, is a good thing, something to protect and keep them secure.
The third, most prominent metaphor Luhrmann uses in his film is that of heaven, and Juliet being a part of heaven; “her eyes in heaven”. Romeo, often describes Juliet in terms of heaven in the play. He calls her “bright angel”, and also as a saint on several occasions. This shows Romeo’s love for Juliet once more, that she is so important to him, that she rivals religion, and heaven. Furthermore, with the ideas of heaven, we see one of the first inclusions of a metaphor that Juliet says. Romeo is Juliet’s “God of Idolatry”, she says, a shocking blasphemous statement for audience members of that time. This really shows how much she loves him; she idolizes and adores him, like a god!
The use of heaven within the play is used many times by Luhrmann to signify many different things. In Act 2ii Juliet comes down from her brightly lit room to Romeo in an elevator, also heavily lit from within. This descent from high, in my opinion, greatly refers to the many references in the play to heaven, and with that, Juliet being a part of heaven. Furthermore, at the end of the scene Juliet goes back up to her bedroom via the long staircase, as though walking a staircase to heaven, a theme later revisited in the final death scene, 5iii, in the tomb or church of Verona.
Furthermore, the actions of Juliet especially, were really meant to shock the Elizabethan audience. Her very forward actions, which really defy and out go the previously set, almost laws, and rules of Filial Obedience were really not the norm of that generation. Juliet was meant to do what her mother told her, but he love for Romeo was too much, and proposed the same day she met him. In Act 1 scene 3 Juliet says “But no more deep will I endart mine eye Than your consent gives me strength to make it fly showing her complete submissiveness to her mother, as her daughter and that she will do whatever her mother whishes, especially when It comes to future members of the families and husbands. This is filial obedience, and was how unmarried children, more importantly females, were supposed to act at this time, and when Juliet goes against this, by wishing to marry Romeo without consulting her mother, the Elizabethan audience would have been very shocked that Juliet would have done such a disrespectful action in this time and place.
This complete disregard for her mother’s thoughts on such an action, and the reversal of previous laws really shocked the audience, and says something very important about Shakespeare. His plays were shocking, and also, this lack of worry of how his plays may be accepted, to me, shows how true they are to him, and that the things he deals with in his plays are really close to his heart and it emphasizes these views. Furthermore, it further emphasizes the love between Romeo and Juliet. They are so engrossed and besotted with each other that one their second meeting, and well, chat, they agree to get married at the soonest possible time and place. This really shows there immediate love, or, maybe it’s just infatuation, but whatever it is it brings together the two rival houses; good comes from it in the end.
In Act 5 scene 3, Shakespeare later explores this theme of light, and also dark; the light amongst the dark. Throughout Romeo’s speech, he talks about Juliet being the light amongst the dark of the tomb. Juliet lies within “this palace of dim light”, and before this, Romeo says Juliet, his “love, his wife” is “a lightning”. She is to him the light amongst the dark in this Tomb. Furthermore, after Juliet’s actual death, upon the page’s entrance, the page says “This is the place; where the torch doth burn”, which again seems to talk about Juliet as being this burning light from within the tomb. This again links to the metaphor of Juliet being the light, the sun.
Furthermore, this link to Juliet still being the light, I think, symbolizes the fact that she is not really dead. She has taken the potion, appearing she is dead, and Romeo actually thinks about this, when he talks the “crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks”. Romeo then takes the poison, realizing he will be with her forever in heaven. Furthermore, this idea of death bringing life and love in the afterlife is repeated in Juliet’s death speech, when she says, “make me die with a restorative”. Juliet calls the poison, and the dagger that brings her death as a restorative. These oxymorons; “Restorative poison”, “O happy dagger” and “friendly drop”, shows this idea that death brings heaven, and I believe this is shown within Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the play. In the film, once the couple has both committed suicide, the camera pans out and shows the long aisle, rising up from their resting place. I interpreted this, as an interpretation of this idea of heaven. The aisle is like a stairway to heaven, and Romeo and Juliet, are about to ascend to heaven.
Luhrmann shows the metaphor of Juliet being the intense light from within the darkness of Romeo’s life by surrounding her deathbed by many, many candles of all shapes and sizes. Furthermore the light bright neon crosses down the aisle is also reference to this idea of Juliet being the light, as they seem to get brighter as and bigger the closer the get to Juliet’s bed. Furthermore, the candles in the movie seem to spell out the letters “J C”- Juliet Capulet, which also confirms the metaphor of Juliet being the light, especially as she’s being spelt out by candles, a bright and also warm form of light.
Later on in Romeo’s speech, he describes himself as being the sailor that is being steered onto the rocks to die. This is something he couldn’t control; fate. Furthermore, the line, “And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars”, refers to Romeo trying to escape from his fate, however, he and Juliet’s fate is set on course, and nothing can stop it. Luhrmann uses this use of fate in the play in this scene in the film. The most noticeable reference to fate I saw was that Romeo places his gun upon a certain cushion in the church on Juliet’s bed, the cushion embroidered and signed with the initials, “J C”, Juliet Capulet. Then Juliet later goes on to shoot herself with this gun, and the fact that Luhrmann gets Romeo to place the gun on this specific cushion, I feel really shows the idea of fate and that it was meant to be; after all, the gun could have been put anywhere, but no, it’s placed on the cushion, Juliet’s cushion, a sign she was going to shoot herself. Also, in the film, the couples are surrounded by crosses made out of neon lights and flowers. This reference to god and religion around them is a reference to something higher, something that cannot be controlled, and in turn, the fates themselves.
Throughout Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s language inspires Luhrmann’s every second of film. This close reference to Shakespeare’s language really comes across in the thousands of symbols that go unnoticed at first, but which are then discovered the more times you watch the film. Shakespeare’s main purpose of Romeo and Juliet was to open up the boundaries of love set in those times. From the preposterous proposal of Juliet, to their untimely undoing, I believe Shakespeare tried to set new boundaries, boundaries that meant love could be found, rather then simply made; a love that didn’t rely on wealth or status. Baz Luhrmann however, still manages to portray these boundaries, despite the story being set in modern times, with his use of the rival gangs, and business men. However, the modern audience wouldn’t have been shocked to see two people fall in love without any ties or complications, and hence, makes for a compelling and tragic movie, as well as a skillful artistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s literature.