Would you choose to be young forever?
Our obsession with youth is a hidden and shameful fascination that’s nuzzled deep in the crevices of the heart of a youth-obsessed America. People try creams, serums, Botox, and surgery to appear young as long as possible. Furthermore, stories of youth, and particularly young love, skyrocket to the top of pop culture; Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, and nearly every YA fiction exemplifies this phenomenon. Young love and its consequences are everywhere, but what do these stories’ popularity tell us about our culture?
Youth is synonymous with beauty. Youth is the glittering promise of possibility and purity in one–the untainted adventure of adolescence that hasn’t been dampened by the horror of adulthood. What story better encapsulates youth than Romeo and Juliet?
There’s a reason that this story has withstood the test of time.
Sure, most of Shakespeare’s work has been adapted and adapted again, some bearing little resemblance to the original piece it once was. But why is Romeo and Juliet undoubtedly the most popular? In this iconic story, we are met with star-crossed lovers, doomed from the start, who inevitably fall into a deep and passionate romance. Young, pure, and faced with threats from both sides of their rival families, Romeo and Juliet embody the ideas of youth we are so obsessed with.
Better yet, their youth is interrupted. By the story’s end, both our lovers are dead–young forever. Never aging, never blemished, never jaded. Their love is eternal–existing somewhere where the devastation of age can’t deteriorate it.
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of this story comes to us packaged in a vibrant, camp, gang war set on the turbulent Verona Beach.
The dialogue of the film is the same as Shakespeare’s original written word, keeping his iconic iambic pentameter intact, but visually we are presented with a 90’s extravaganza, complete with Hawaiian shirts and Mercutio dressed in drag. Luhrmann modernizes, dramatizes, and paints a colorful and vivid picture. His choices help bring the archaic and frankly difficult language to life in a way that modern viewers can understand. The actors deliver each line smoothly, speaking the words as if “thou” and “beseech” are simply a part of their everyday language.
Romeo and Juliet created two heartthrobs out of fresh-faced new actors.
Leonardo DiCaprio has reigned over Hollywood since the beginning of his acting career. He is boyish, conventionally attractive, white, and overall incredibly young. Leonardo is wide-eyed and expressive, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and even plays Romeo’s annoying obsession with Rosaline at the beginning of the film as a hopeless romantic rather than a lustful, obsessive, whiner–the tone the lines are written in.
Claire Danes was also very young when filming the movie–17 in fact. Luhrmann chooses to show Juliet in as pure of a light as he can during the film, dressing her in white with minimal makeup and keeping her hair long and flowing. She even is dressed as an angel during the costume party in the film–symbolic of her purity and representing how Romeo sees her.
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet have to be young in order to convincingly sell the idea of their passionate romance without it seeming too crazy. Why is mind-bending, all-encompassing, obsessive love only something we associate with youth? Why is it only attainable within a small window of time? And why can this love not last–either succumbing to a bitter end that age and familiarity will inevitably bring, or stopped short by death. This love cannot endure, just as youth cannot endure.
Romeo and Juliet’s love exists where only this kind of love can:
in a short window of untainted affection, encapsulated in a third dimension where the trials of everyday ruin its purity. This love exists and is rewritten over and over to this day. Forever young, forever in love.
Baz Luhrmann’s film serves as a wonderful 90’s aesthetic time capsule and innovative look at a literary masterpiece. The various adaptations prove that not only is Romeo and Juliet a timeless story that will be reinvented for years to come, it also gives us a cultural take on our ideas of youth, love, and time that have prevailed throughout generations. We love youth, we love love, and both coexist in a symbiotic relationship that only time, or death, can tear apart.
Alexandria Taylor is a 23-year-old recent college graduate and writer currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia. At fifteen, she was scouted to co-write a post-apocalyptic young-adult book series with award-winning writer RJ Patterson. The first installment, Breathe, was published in 2017, and its sequel, Echo, is set to be released next year. Since graduating with her Film and Media degree, she has been pursuing screenwriting. She has a teleplay, screenplay, spec script, and three publications under her belt. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, writing, watching films, and exploring the city with her puppy.