Romeo & Juliet Film Analysis - Balcony Scene
Pre-AP English 9
30 April 2018
The balcony scene of Romeo & Juliet is arguably one of the most famous scenes from the entire play. A key, pivotal moment in the story in which Romeo and Juliet ponder and discuss their intense love for each other, with Juliet spouting prose out of her balcony as Romeo listens. It’s a scene that most who’ve familiarized themselves with the play will know. Despite this, there exists a balcony scene without a balcony at all, and it turned out surprisingly well, potentially even better than the original. The two film adaptations of Romeo & Juliet attempt to portray the balcony scene from the original play in completely different ways, with the Baz Luhrmann film being more emotional and impactful as a result of the modifications it has made in setting, costumes, and line delivery when compared to the Zeffirelli adaptation which is more like a play rather than a romantic movie.
The most noticeable key element of the scene which differs in both would be the setting. In the Zeffirelli adaptation, Romeo appears in the greenery outside the balcony of a stone home, with Juliet at said balcony. This is largely consistent with how the play portrayed the scene, showing how much Zeffirelli cared about sticking to the original source material. Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, however, tries to bring a bit of originality to the film, by having the scene take place around a mansion’s pool. Romeo, in this adaptation, sneaks past several security cameras in the area to see the balcony by the pool. He then realizes that Juliet isn’t at the balcony, when she walks towards the pool area. This leads to Romeo and Juliet discussing their feelings in the pool, rather than at her balcony. The magnitude of the modification of this scene strongly shows just how dedicated Baz Luhrmann was to making an original film out of the source material. When compared with the Zeffirelli film, the Luhrmann film feels more dramatic as a result of the modified setting. In the Luhrmann scene, Romeo has to evade the security cameras, which creates a feeling of suspense, while in the Zeffirelli scene Romeo just sits still in the dark to evade capture. When Romeo and Juliet talk to each other in the pool of the Luhrmann film, the scene feels more personal than the Zeffirelli film, where Romeo and Juliet calmly talk to each other at a distance without much emotion. The change in such a key element of the scene, the moving from the balcony to a pool, changes the entire mood of the scene.
Another key element of the scene which very noticeably differs in each film is the costume design of the characters. In the Zeffirelli adaptation, Romeo and Juliet are wearing medieval-era English costumes, which is how Shakespeare likely envisioned the characters himself. The Luhrmann adaptation, however, wanted to again put a spin on the story, by having Romeo and Juliet wear modern clothing. The modern clothing makes it easier to empathize with Romeo and Juliet during the scene. When watching them, one can easily imagine themselves in their roles, meanwhile one may struggle with doing so when watching the Zeffirelli balcony scene. In the Luhrmann scene, they look like everyday people in love, while in the Zeffirelli film one simply cannot picture the scene occuring the way it did in the modern world everyone currently lives in. The change in this key element, clothing, really improves the emotive abilities of the scene.
Lastly, one final very important key element relevant to both films would be line delivery. The line delivery of the Luhrmann adaptation is incomparably different from the Zeffirelli adaptation. During the scene in the Zeffirelli film, Romeo and Juliet talk to each other either calmly or in a very forced and exaggerated manner, as that is the only way to portray emotion through speech when the characters cannot physically interact with each other. In the Baz Luhrmann film, however, the line delivery is more emotive because of the stronger interaction between the characters. In the Luhrmann scene, a moment comes up which really demonstrates how much the adaptation improved the line delivery. As Romeo and Juliet are in the pool, a security guard appears to investigate the situation, as he saw two people in the pool despite the fact that only Juliet should be there. When he appears, Juliet hides Romeo under the water so he doesn’t get caught. After the guard leaves, Juliet’s tone turns playful and slightly flirtatious, something which isn’t portrayable in the Zeffirelli film as the situation presented in the film’s balcony scene can’t have enough layers of character interaction to facilitate such complex tones and deliveries.
When one compares the elements of the Baz Luhrmann balcony scene, the settings, clothing, and line delivery, which created layers of character interaction, more relatable characters, suspense, and drama, to the Zeffirelli balcony scene, balcony and all, one can very reasonably argue that the Luhrmann scene is a dramatic improvement, as the Baz Luhrmann balcony scene is a movie scene, while the Zeffirelli scene is more a play with film cameras instead. The balcony in the balcony scene is not what makes it the balcony scene. It is the passion of the two characters, Romeo and Juliet, that makes the scene the most famous scene of the entire play. So, if one were to say that one balcony scene were better than the other, would one not pick the one that better portrays the emotion of the characters? In this instance, the better balcony scene would be the balcony-less balcony scene of the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.