How does Baz Luhrmann transform the character Romeo into a contemporary context in Romeo + Juliet?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most evident ways in which Luhrmann makes Romeo more contemporary is by casting Leonardo DiCaprio.  In this inclusion, Romeo comes across as more contemporary, more "hip."  Additionally, Romeo needing to take drugs prior to meeting Juliet helps to establish a more modern context.  Contemporary viewers can understand the Montague and Capulet feud in the "crews" within each.  Luhrmann makes it more contemporary, almost like gangs competing for turf and this connects to the modern viewer.  The physicality of Romeo in terms of his affections for Juliet is also more contemporary, as he leads her into an elevator for their first kiss right off the bat.  I think that the passionate nature of the kiss, itself, is appealing to contemporary viewers.  While the passion that is there is evident, there is a sensuousness that is indicative of a contemporary and modern audience.  I think that in this very instant- the kiss- there is a direct and conscious appeal to the younger audience to view Shakespeare in a different light.  Nothing in the text would come close to embodying the intensity of this kiss on screen and for it to happen so early on in the film is a means to grab a hold of the younger and more contemporary viewer.