We are going to watch the ending of Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet today in class. Yesterday we watched the ending of the Zeffirelli version and I asked students to focus on the similarities and differences between the two texts, something they are used to doing when we watch a movie. Today I am going to ask them to do something a little different; we are going to focus on how Luhrmann creates tension in this film. We have discussed how Shakespeare structures his work to create tension, so this is a nice extension.
Students will gather themselves at the beginning of class, reading to take notes as they watch. They should get their notebooks and they can move their seats to see the screen better.
As we watch the final scene of Luhrmann's film, students will focus on how he creates greater intensity. We have discussed tension and juxtaposition throughout our reading of the play, so students are comfortable with the concept and recognize it in the text. Yet, Luhrmann intensifies the actions of the play even more. The actions and events are always this close to working out for the couple. For instance, when the USPS man delivers Friar Lawrence's message, Romeo just misses it, and of course, when Romeo swallows the poison, Juliet is just waking up. They look at each other one last time before he dies, and you can see the surprise and regret on Romeo's face. There is always a collective gasp in the classroom at this moment. Luhrmann doesn't create tension just in these moments, however; he also does it through sound, camera angle and lighting.
I will pause the film intermittently to discuss what we see and to answer questions. For instance, I pause when Romeo reaches the church after his police chase into Verona and ask what made that scene so intense. Inevitably, students will say that the fast-paced movements, quick camera shots, and the music coupled with the loud helicopters helped create the tension (maybe they will use different wording). Then I will ask them to compare that to the next scene, wherein I will start the film again: Romeo will enter the church, which is quiet and serene, covered in candles and electric crosses. It is the compete opposite of the last scene and a relief to the senses. It is also the antithesis of Zeffirelli's tomb scene, which is dark and scary. We will also briefly discuss that difference, even though they are not tracking similarities and differences.