In many characters confronted authority or were disobedient in

In this essay I intend to justify the use of
mis-en-scene as it is employed in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Shakespeare’s
play Romeo and Juliet not as mere
aids for background and setting but as meaningful and important drivers to showcase
his original work and interpretation of the play regarding social and moral
issues. Luhrmann provides strong visual images as a medium to represent the
strong and powerful use of language that Shakespeare invokes through his
writing to talk about contemporary issues. Despite the story of Romeo and
Juliet being over 500 years old, it is as relevant and appealing today as it
was when first performed notwithstanding differences in morals and values
between Shakespeare’s audience 500 years ago and contemporary audience. Although
dated, the story of the two lover’s still holds great appeal to this day
because of many underlying topics that transcend time such as order and
authority, fate, and love.

reading Shakespeare’s original play, the audience can get a sense of the
importance and concerns reflected in the Elizabethan era in relation to authority,
law and order. A characteristic that was well received by the audience of the
time given the similar morals and values shared, as well as, appealing and
entertaining the masses. For instance, Shakespeare explores the consequences of
confronting authority that leads to order breaking down in society demonstrated
through character’s disobedience. Which ultimately results in the tragic death
of the Romeo, Juliet, and of many others.  

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            When analyzing the play, many
characters confronted authority or were disobedient in some way, with the major
rule breakers being Romeo and Juliet. For example, both deceived their parents
by getting married without their permission, Juliet faked her death in order to
not marry Paris, and Romeo committed the most punishable crime by taking away Tybalt’s
life. Other characters also defied authority, for instance, the Montague and
Capulet boys went against orders of the Prince by continuing violent actions
throughout the city of Verona even after his ultimatum. Even the Friar and the
Nurse broke the rules because they helped the young couple get married and
aided them with their controversial actions. The simple solution to this chaos
that Shakespeare offers is just to be obedient by respecting authority, law and
order. A reflection of the morality and values of the time. Otherwise, as seen throughout
the play, Shakespeare makes sure that all disobedient actions are punished for
their sins. “All are punished!” –The Prince of Verona (5.3.13). In a sense, Romeo and Juliet is an excellent representative
of how important obedience was at the time; in addition to exhibit common
shared morals for the Elizabethan era and consequences of disobedience and

            In contrast, Luhrmann’s modern take on
the play also deals with authority. However instead of displaying morals common
to our time or offering solutions to today’s society issues, he provides a very
unique and artistic viewpoint on modern society. From his point of view, as shown
in 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 that
makes us human such as love and compassion. This general perspective of society
is represented throughout the film by bird’s-eye view/elevated shots of the city
of Verona involving violent chaotic scenes such as police raids, gang shootings,
and other violent actions. The scenes are generally quick and very vivid with
the camera constantly moving and changing quickly to emphasize the chaotic
nature of the scenes. This film is great example of MTV style of editing, also
known as post-classical editing, which is known for its non-linear cuts that
emphasize location, mood and feeling over character and plot development.1
Furthermore, the intense violence portrayed in many scenes is similar to the original
play as intended, given that violence plays a key role in the play since it
puts in display the transformation and shortfall of morals of many main
characters as the plot progresses.

            The first scene that the audience has
on the City of Verona is an extreme long-shot of the city revealing a giant
religious statue of Jesus in the center of the city and as the camera zooms in
the audience is introduced to the two family households. The City of Verona is
dominated by two prominent skyscrapers and major business owners, Montague and
Capulet. As the camera starts to fade in, the camera focuses in the foreground
of two photographs of Old Montague and Old Capulet separated by the same statue
of Jesus, which insinuates and paves the way for future religious references
later on the film.  The two prominent
skyscrapers are symbols of wealth and power. The separation between the two by
the statue of Jesus can be interpreted as a barrier protecting the city from a
clash of the families that are filled with hatred towards each other.

Following the
introduction of the two name households, the violence is crystallized when the
film introduces the Montague and Capulet boys in the gas station scene.
Luhrmann intelligently uses the audiences’ preconceived notions about certain groups
in society to have an opinion on characters even before they are further
explored later on the film. For example, the first shot of Tybalt is focused on
his cowboy boots which emphasizes a Western vibe to his character, and this is
further supported with western-style music playing in the background. The
Montague boy are wearing open Hawaiian shirts and shorts in a convertible car
representing their surf shack style of living; laid-back living by the water.2
Whereas the Capulet boy are a complete contrast. In contrast to this style is
the arrival of the Capulet boys. They dress in a more conservative manner,
wearing suits and tight pants and looking more serious in comparison to the
Montague boys. These contrasting appearances and behavior of the two groups are
easily seen throughout the film by the good use of visual techniques from the
director to showcase the incompatibility between the two families.   
along into the next topic of fate. During Shakespeare’s time people were
obsessed with the notions of fate and to what degree we have control over our
lives. Another key reason to the success of the play. This is seen throughout
the play with various premonitions and foreshadowing that inevitably come into
reality and result in the deaths of Romeo, Juliet and other major characters
such as Mercutio. As a result of such, this leads the audience to believe that
the two young lovers’ outcome has already been determined even before the start
of the play and that Romeo and Juliet have to die in order to finally bring
peace to Verona. For instance, in the famous balcony scene, Juliet seems to
hesitate for a moment as she realized that their increasing attraction and
passion towards each other seem to be growing too fast and warns Romeo that it
would be ‘unadvised’ to rush things. Later on, Romeo dreams of himself lying
dead as Juliet lays next to him. Furthermore, the Friar also warns Romeo about
rushing his marriage by saying to him “those stumble who run fast (2.3.100),” but
eventually gives up as he sees that the two are desperately in love.  These are just some examples of foreshadowing
that things were not going to progress the way the young lovers wanted, but
also goes to show that they are responsible for the actions that lead to their
tragic deaths. Even though there not that many circumstance in the play that
chance plays a major role the concept is still present to some degree. For
instance, 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’s
decision to attend the ball and if he would not have attended the ball none of
this would have transpired. This just goes to show how we are still able to
make our own decisions that can affect our lives. A very interesting aspect of
such, is the contrast between religious symbolism and disobedience of many
characters in the film.

Luhrmann’s usage of religious symbols and icons are
seen from the very first scene of the film when the audience is introduced with
the statue of Jesus and the crucifixes symbols in the opening credits. What is
more interesting is that the audience is forced to focus is some sort of
religion symbolism before a violent act occurs. The director does this by
zooming in into objects and having a still shot until the frame is cut and the
camera tilts up to a medium shot of a character. The beginning of the gas
station scene stands out in this way, as it shows both groups wearing or
carrying some sort of religion icon, such as having the image of the Virgin
Mary engraved on all the guns shown in the scene. The contrast between religion
and violence show that both groups are aware of Christian morals. Hence, they
know of what is right and wrong, but they choose to behave in a way that is completely
opposite to how they should be. Religious symbolism is present throughout the entire
film, and even more so at the end of the film.   




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