Romeo + Juliet VFX

Known worldwide for its classic storyline, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare has seen many different remakes of the version of the play. Baz Luhrmann tries to replicate the play by switching the set into today’s environment. Luhrmann makes a great job integrating futuristic aspects, which is one of the reasons why the adaptation was popular.

At first, the movie looked a little bit ridiculous. The opening starts off with the Montague “gang” having a fight with the rival group of Capulet. The dispute seems to be really childish and violent at first because of the way they react to each other’s provocation. But then it becomes apparent that the director is depicting an equivalent situation in the Italian Renaissance. Meaningless quarrels with lots of violence that usually end with many casualties on both sides. When I first read the play in high school, I did not particularly realize how violent the rivalry was. Unless someone is somewhat knowledgeable about Italian behaviors during the Renaissance period, it becomes difficult to estimate the gravity of the rivalry situation. By creating a movie that is relatable to everybody, the play becomes much more personal and conveys the message that it did to the people back in the day.

What is really striking about this movie is that it combines both new visual effects from current movies and old lines from the play. As odds as it sounds, Mercutio rolling in a Chevy Monte Carlo is not a bad sight. After a few minutes of playing the movie, I quickly forgot that the characters were using old English and the exact lines of the original play. I felt like the confrontations were more intense probably because of the presence of guns in the fights. Of course, the fights were as intense back in the day since the only dangerous hand carried weapons were blades. Also the Prince or Chief of Police felt more present than in the play. Because of the visual effects, it was more clear when the Prince warned both factions for their insolence. The camera angles changing and lightning erupting in the background gives a queue to the audience to pay attention to what the character is about to say, which helps understanding some of the confusing syntax of the play.

The visual queues of the movie really help understand other things like emotions. Being a non-native English speaker, I sometimes find trouble when it comes to understand some of the complex double meaning lines. Sometimes it is not the meaning that is confusing, but what the context of the phrase. The tone changes so quickly that it becomes difficult to see what kind of feeling is going through the character. By watching the Luhrmann version of the play, the emotions become very distinct and the context of the lines become less of mystery. For example, the emotions amplify as a result of visual queues. From reading the play, I knew Romeo was very attached to Mercutio. However, from watching the Luhrmann version, I could notice that the death of his friend was very painful to the point that it was driving him to commit the terrible crime against Tybalt.

I think the movie was very good complement to the play in order to understand the emotions and the context of the play.  I would recommend one to read the play first in order to appreciate the movie. However, it also works the other way around since the movie clarified a lot of the confusing lines the play had.

The Defiling of Honor

Luhrmann’s adaption makes an attempt to stay as close to the original Romeo and Juliet as possible while adapting the play to a modern setting by using the exact text for the dialogue. It even goes as far as to have the gun models named ‘swords’ so that when a character begins a fight by drawing his sword, they draw guns instead. But while Luhrmann gives attention to the minute details, he misses the conceptual details of the play, notably honor.

Honor is a key ideal to the Renaissance, as it was, as Elizabeth Cohen writes in the book Daily Life in Renaissance Italy, ‘a highly valued commodity’. It was a dominating presence in Renaissance Italy, and the original play demonstrates that. Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, a challenge upon Romeo’s honor, but when Romeo refuses, Mercutio accepts the duel to save Romeo’s honor. In Luhrmann’s adaption, Tybalt beats Romeo after Romeo refuses to accept the duel. Mercutio then saves Romeo because Romeo is being physically harmed. This incites a completely different emotion for why Mercutio fights Tybalt. There is no honor involved in the adaption’s confrontation as is present in Shakespeare’s original. The adaption makes an even larger mistake by removing Paris and Romeo’s duel at the Capulet Tomb. Duels were an integral part of Renaissance society, even non-physical ones such as competitions between quality of craftwork. However, Romeo and Paris’s duel for Juliet’s love, the most honorable of competitions, was completely removed from the adaption. While some may argue that this is inconsequential, the Renaissance values that underlie Romeo and Juliet are equally if not more important than the love aspect of the play.

Anyone can see that the characters Romeo and Juliet love each other beyond imagination. However, under this tragedy of a love story, there are the underlying details that define the Renaissance. The play takes place in Renaissance Verona, a typical Italian city of the time. And, as sometimes occurring during the time period, a family feud took place in fair Verona. And because of the honor that the Capulet and Montague family live by, fatalities occurred on both sides. In the end, it is the values that the Renaissance families hold that causes the deaths. Luhrmann’s adaption removes at least one of the key driving concepts in the play: honor. The adaption then focuses even more heavily on the love aspect of the play. What would seem like a harmless removal of scenes and minor details actually changes one of if not the most important component of the play.

Although I have watched adaptions of Romeo and Juliet before, I find that Luhrmann’s adaption of the classic Shakespearean tragedy does not reflect the historic settings and ideals of the Renaissance. In particular, the adaptation completely exempts the ever-present and dominating social concept of honor, thus insulting, though unintentionally, the Renaissance period.

The Exclusion of the End

When  I first read Romeo and Juliet I did not actually see an acted out version of the play. This time I got to watch the Baz luhrmann version. The Baz luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet actually does a good job of representing the play. The one part where the movie takes a position that is very different from the play is at the very end. In the play there is this scene where the two families cry and make up because there kids died. In the movie the parents are just in shock and are finding it hard to believe what happened. The lines spoken at this point are even cut in the movie.

I think that this was a very interesting decision because of the source material. I do not like Romeo and Juliet at all and it will take a lot for anything to change my opinion in this matter. The reason is that the play is terribly inconsistent, mainly with the character of Romeo. Romeo goes from a sort of luckless lead to this helpless romantic who his friends insult and imply that he is effeminate. Of course in the next scene, he cries and refuses to fight until Tybalt kills Mercutio, at which points he fights and kills Tybalt who has been played up as this master fighter. And after that Romeo goes into exiles, starts crying all the time and acts without thinking when he finds out that Juliet “died”. Everything about Romeo is stuff that I cannot stand.

Then there is of course the fact that this happens in the middle of two Italian families feuding. I only ever see the feud come up though as a convenient plot device for action. Tybalt and Romeo fight because Tybalt was angry at Romeo for going to the Capulet party. All the violence is not there because of the love story and it makes the play alternate between star crossed lovers and a blood feud. And honestly I think the two are put together in the worst manner possible. The play jumps haphazardly from the balcony scene and making fun of Romeo’s manhood to him killing Tybalt before running away crying. I always see this as two separate play that Shakepeare mashed together and they just do not work together.

This is why I thought that it was interesting in the movie that the last scene where in the play where everyone goes on about how this love is so great that we can be friends again is cut. I have used that scene before to prove that there is no set tone in the play and whole thing could have been avoided. My reasoning was simply that is the two could put aside their feud differences because they each had someone on their side die, then the feud really was not that big of a deal. In the movie however, that scene does not exist. I do not think that it works perfectly and that there should have been a few more changes, like getting a consistent tone for Romeo, but it does make that play more consistent. By cutting that scene Luhrmann is saying that this feud is bigger than two kids in love and that all they were was a small portion of a giant conflict.

I think that is probably the best way to set the tone for the movie. The feud is clearly there in the play to drive the action, but in a movie it would seem more out of place than normal. The only option that I would do to have made it work was what Luhrmann did by making the last scene say more that this love was rushed and insignificant than about how it’s so beautiful that they found each other in the middle of this conflict. By taking away the weird love conquers all message from the play that comes about from the two lovers killing themselves, the movie finally makes the play go somewhere and make a definitive stand that this feud is giant and Romeo and Juliet were just two teenagers filled with emotion stuck in the middle.

Mantua as a Desert

The City of Mantua, Italy

The City of Mantua, Italy

The movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is a modern representation of Shakespeare’s classic romance tale. The film features the original dialogue of the play but changes its setting. It is set in 1990’s Verona Beach, California instead of 16th century Verona, Italy. Although the main plot and dialogue of the film are very similar if not identical  to that of the original, there are many aspects of the film that were changed in order to better fit its modern setting. Some striking examples of these changes are the use of handguns, branded “Dagger” to coincide with the use of daggers in the original play, and the use of a movie theater named Sycamore Grove in place of the original sycamore grove garden. Although these changes actually help make the plot correspond with the setting of the film, there is one change that does not. This change is that of the city of Mantua.

The city of Mantua was Verona’s rival city during Renaissance. Romeo is exiled to this city after he murders Tybalt, a Capulet and the cousin to Juliet. In the film, however, Mantua is just a shanty town in the desert in what seems to be Nevada. While at first I was shocked that the director of the movie had chosen Mantua to be a desert town instead of a rival prospering city, I began to think that the director was trying to symbolize Romeo’s suffering as the desert. In other words, the desert represents how Romeo feels his life would be without Juliet.  Romeo believes that his love for Juliet, while stemming from nothing but a passing glance, is passionate and firm. Without her, he sees his life as empty and barren.

Romeo's Anguish in the Desert

Romeo’s Anguish in the Desert

It should be easy to note that in reality Romeo does not really love Juliet. Rather, he is just infatuated by her. Their “love” for one another is displayed by their desire to be with each other constantly. Furthermore, their desire for one another is purely physical. As teenagers first experiencing these feelings, both Romeo and Juliet are convinced that these feelings of infatuation are true love. They hold on to these feelings of attraction so strongly that they are willing to disregard the feud between their families in order to keep it. By doing so, they endanger not only their own lives but also the lives of their loved ones, as seen in the deaths of Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, and Tybalt. In the end, this superficial and physical attraction that they believe to be love ends up causing their own deaths.

After analyzing the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, my perspective about the use of the desert as Mantua changed. It now seems to me that the desert does not only represent Romeo’s anguish without Juliet. It also represents their relationship in general. Their relationship was hot like a desert, but like a desert, void of anything substantial or beneficial to a human being. The desert’s only offerings were pain, hardship, loneliness, and sorrow. The desert destroyed Romeo and Juliet, causing their catastrophic and untimely death.

Whether done on purpose or on accident, the director’s choice of showing Mantua as a desolated desert town offers a great deal of insight into Romeo’s feelings of despair and loneliness while in exile as well as the end result that such feelings caused.

My love as deep, the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite

Every summer, my dad and I always make an all-day trip to Central Park in NYC, where we spend an entire day and night watching and appreciating the various Shakespearean plays.

Romeo and Juliet Play in NYC Central Park 2008

Romeo and Juliet Play in NYC Central Park 2008

Obviously of the most popular of these plays was Romeo and Juliet. As many of you know, Romeo and Juliet portrays a pair of star-crossed lovers who willingly die for the sake of love regardless of the consequences. Blah blah blah. It was determined that their love for one another has been predestined and their affection for one another has truly defied the universe. These young lovers are driven to defy their entire social world for the sake of pure love.

Juliet:

O Romeo, Romeo,
wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Here, Juliet asks Romeo to abandon the ongoing feud of their families for them. She questions whether he has the realistic faith in her as she does him. Then, she curses how their names define their identities. Were Romeo were not called “Romeo” or “Montague,” he would still be the person she loves. Love in Romeo and Juliet is a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves. Throughout not only the play, but also the movie directed by  Baz Luhrmann, love is attributed in the terms of religion.

Premonition

Premonition

The incessant references to fate, God and tacky glowing crosses are apparent portrayals of love religious affiliation. Love resists any single metaphor because it is too powerful to be so easily contained or understood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, in my opinion, Romeo and Juliet is such a superficial and shallow description of true love. To Romeo and Juliet, they seem to see love as endless hugging, cuddling, immense kissing and sex. Perhaps in Shakespeare’s horny young mind, love is an opportunity to share a bed with another, but that is not love. Love is an indescribable feeling for another individual in which a strong and mutual connection is established and the pair is able to understand and sympathize with one another. In my opinion, true love is obviously denoted in the renowned book, Little Women by  Louisa May Alcott.

 

Family

Family

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

From the story, Alcott centers on the conflicts of a woman’s life and the relationship of these girls. Generally, these four sisters undergo a life-journey from childhood to adulthood and each day, a sense of growing maturity is observably noticed. Despite the conventional sisterly conflicts with love, family, money, and marriage, there is still a strong connection among these girls. Their well-built filial love with their parents, friends and family is very special and difficult to break. Because the March girls have such a strong foundation of their family’s love, they are able to make intelligent choices when faced with different prospects for romantic love. Little Women suggests that love between siblings, especially sisters, is more important than romantic love. That is what true love is. Understanding one another like a family.

Vendetta in the Italian Renaissance

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when someone was murdered or assaulted, it became the obligation of the victim’s closest male relatives to avenge the injury by harming the perpetrator or one of his relatives to a similar degree. A son was obliged to avenge the death of his father, a brother the injury of his brother. Due to the weak establishment of the government, vendetta was the only force that bind people and families together while tearing them apart. Vendetta is a paradox that both divides and connects humanity in times of uncertainty.  Even though vendetta is an act of retaliation against another, it also helps individuals from the same family to feel closer and better connected. A similar hate towards another family motivates them to conspire as a team in order to punish the sole perpetrator. It is primarily what brings the most unlikely of foes together.

Mad Blood Stirring

Generally, vendetta creates factions in families, individuals and society. However, factions became the most potent organizations for regulating disputes and local conflicts in the face of inefficiency, indifference, corruption and a profound divide in judicial systems.

Today, vendetta is shown through various forms of media. For instance, in the recent TV show Revenge starring Emily VanCamp, a young woman aims to extract revenge on those who framed her father, thus imprisoning and eventually killing him. After years of training, Amanda Clarke was able to devise and strategize a plan and slowly kill off her enemies one-by-one through tactful manipulation of deception and skill. However, revenge is a slow and difficult process in which an individual must discipline themselves and exercise extreme patience with the utmost concentration. And she could not do it alone. Clarke allied herself with an astute multibillionaire and an adept assassin. They conglomerated with a similar aim to disenfranchise and ruin the Grayson family who have injured them in their own personal way. Their goal has given them the fuel to combat without fear of losing their lives.

Revenge

Similarly, the renowned movie V for Vendetta described a vigilante who undertakes law enforcement without legal authority. Throughout the film, V, the protagonist attempts to ignite a revolution against the brutal fascist regime. He initiates the idea that people should not be afraid of their governments, while governments should be afraid of their people. Fear should not be the driving factor behind anything. In fact, a government should be at peace with its people. Though V performs unorthodox and life-threatening actions, he was able to ignite the hidden strength that the people have always had. When V liberates his people, thousands of Londoners, all wearing the Guy Fawkes masks and unarmed, marched on to the Parliament to watch the explosive event unravel. The unity of the people gave them power and strength to fight back.

Remember Remember the 5th of November

Vendetta is a powerful source that compels certain individuals to work together. This tightly-knit collaboration enables a better understanding of each person involved. Though each individual may have a different background and story, their common goal primarily fuels the impetus and determination to fight back for their beliefs.

In my opinion, vendetta seems only appropriate when the situation is justified. For instance, when a vigilante aims to not only extract revenge for their abuse, but for the oppression placed on others as well, they become a hero. But when an individual seeks revenge for the feeling of pure sadism, the vigilante is denounced as a  inciter.

Vendetta is a dangerous toy to play with. Only those with the strongest mental capacity can undergo this stony path. Typically, the vigilante must undergo years of training not only physically, but also psychologically. In order to properly succeed in undergoing revenge, they must be determined, self-preserved and intelligent. Those with the strongest foundations mentally are the true avengers.

Chastity in Renaissance Italy and its Contrast to Modern Society

Chastity is “The state or practice of refraining from sexual intercourse.” This virtue, while still important in our modern-day society, albeit only to a select few, was of curious importance during the Renaissance. This importance stems from the meaning that chastity held during this time. To understand its importance, we have to understand the social background of the time. The average Renaissance Italian’s actions were dictated by religion and honor. Generally speaking, Catholicism and the notion of honor were at odds during the Renaissance. In this conflict between religion and honor, honor generally won.  Regardless, both the code of honor and the Catholic religion promoted this virtue. The importance of chastity to men and women of the Renaissance lies in this fact. This importance parallels to our current treatment of the virtue of chastity although it is no longer honor that has the last word.

Chastity was seen as reflection of a woman’s honor. Furthermore, a woman’s honor reflected on her husband and her family. In a society where honor was as important as religion and perhaps even more important than wealth, the appearance of chastity was a primary concern to both the men and women in Renaissance Italy. The norm was for women to abstain from sexual activities before marriage and any action contrary to this norm was seen as shameless and lacking honor. Monitoring the sexual activities and the virginity of one’s daughters thus occupied the minds of the heads of families. When a woman lost her virginity outside of marriage, it caused major repercussions for her and her family. First, both her honor and her family’s honor was marred by this scandal. Second, if she was ever to get married, the amount of dowry her family would have to pay her future husband would be much greater than usual to atone for her damaged honor. A shocking solution to the problem of a woman’s sexual promiscuity outside of marriage was the murder of both her and her lover. This act would save the family the money it would eventually lose through marriage and also restore their honor. This violent and masochistic approach contrasts with the apparent devotion to religion of Renaissance men and women.

The Catholic religion’s stance on chastity is a very conservative one.  Church doctrine was, and still is, very stern when it comes to sex. Sex is strictly reserved for marriage and any expression of sexuality outside of it is seen as a sin. During the Renaissance as well as today, this is not the case. Many individual cases of sexual promiscuity happened during those times and happen today on a daily basis. Even Renaissance priests joined in on the sin as they often times had affairs with laywomen or even with nuns. The profession of prostitution was and still is a lifestyle dedicated to being unchaste. While the Church’s viewpoint on chastity is strict, its punishment for it for it was not as extreme as the punishment mandated by the code of honor. The Catholic religion is against the taking of another person’s life. Murder is most definitely a greater offense to God than being unchaste. Nevertheless, since the notion of honor was more important than the notion of religious doctrine, the punishment for being unchaste came to be dictated by the code of honor. The treatment and punishment for being unchaste during this time heavily contrasts with its modern counterpart.

The culture of honor is now far past us. In its place, particularly in the United States and other first world countries, a culture of recklessness and irresponsibility has appeared. Like in Renaissance times, religion is the major opponent to this culture, and like in the Renaissance, religion loses. Engaging in sexual activities before marriage is the cultural norm. Along with this new social reality problems such as teenage pregnancy, the pro-life-pro-choice debate, and marital infidelity arise. The Catholic Church is a major opponent of these social developments, yet every day more and more people leave their religious roots, go against church doctrine, and engage in dangerous social activity. It may be the case that this could have developed because of the death of the concept of honor. More and more, being unchaste is seen as “cool” and “hip.” Celebrities who in Renaissance times would have been considered public disgrace are now celebrated. Our society lacks the concept of honor and for this reason core values are being abandoned and replaced with the celebration of vice.

Having two codes of conduct that disagree over the importance of a virtue is a challenge that modern society faces. In the Renaissance, chastity was one of the few virtues where the codes of conduct agreed. Chastity was promoted and encouraged. Even though some people went against this and decided to behave mischievously, they were shunned rather than glorified. Nowadays, we glorify instead of shun inappropriate behavior, creating a culture of dishonor.