How does Baz Luhrmann maintain the appeal and enduring qualities of Shakespeare's play?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the strongest moves that Luhrmann did to continue the allure of Shakespeare's work lies in his casting.  DiCaprio and Danes as Romeo and Juliet was a stroke of genius.  There is a certain appeal in both of them.  They are able to bring out the emotional range of the main characters.  There is a brooding in DiCaprio in his portrayal of Romeo that brings out one of the character's deeper qualities.  Romeo is very tempestuous in the drama, but the melancholic aspect is something that is not fully explored in screen portrayals.  DiCaprio is able to bring out this element, something that reflects a subterranean demon that nothing is able to quite slay except for the hope of being with Juliet.  For her part, Danes is able to bring a head strong quality to Juliet.  This is natural, as the characterization is very strong and defiant of her parents.  Yet, Danes also brings a vulnerability that is unique to Juliet. One forgets that she is a child at the start of the play.  Her love with Romeo and what it brings is what moves her along from girl to woman in the course of the Five Acts.  Yet, Danes' portrayal is one where the girl is still there inside this cocoon of a woman pursuing the man she loves.  Danes nails the ability to combine the idea of loving like a woman, but holding fear like a small child. It's tough to do and Danes does it.  Through the casting of the main characters, Luhrmann is able to maintain the appeal and special qualities of the drama.

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