Luhrmann's Movie Version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
All hopeless romantics get dreamy-eyed and sigh whenever the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet comes up in conversation. Juliet stands on her balcony, innocently murmuring about her meeting with Romeo while the very subject of her musings eagerly climbs the garden wall and trellis leading up to the object of his love, Juliet. Anyone viewing Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet will be sadly disappointed at first to see that the movie doesn't follow the traditional balcony scene. Instead the clandestine meeting and swearing of mutual love takes place in a swimming pool at the Capulet's mansion. For all that the setting differs, Romeo + Juliet does use traditional Shakespearean themes and ideas even if they appear in a somewhat untraditional fashion.
Luhrmann doesn't want to turn his audience off to his new interpretation so he employs comedy to distract the audience from their preconceptions. Luhrmann does use the balcony, but in a comedic way that makes an easy transition for the audience from the conventional balcony to Romeo and Juliet swimming in a pool. Romeo acts like a monumental klutz after ascending the Capulet's garden wall. While looking up to see Juliet's window, he trips the surveillance lights, knocks over a few things, and generally makes a racket. This is not the lithe and graceful Romeo the audience usually thinks of as seen in Zefferelli's version. After climbing the trellis to the balcony, Romeo and the audience expect to see beautiful Juliet through her bedroom curtains at the top of the trellis, but both Romeo and the audience are caught off guard when instead of beautiful Juliet, the plain-faced Nurse appears and almost causes Romeo to fall.
Using water as the medium for Romeo's wooing of Juliet instead of air brings a richer and deeper symbolism to the scene. Water is associated with being in the womb, baptism, and an unknown world waiting to be discovered similar to outer space. For Romeo and Juliet the pool serves as a medium that distances them from the "real" world. In the water, their love for each other and anything else is possible. After Romeo declares his love for Juliet and she is satisfied that he loves her as she loves him, she goes to get out of the pool, leaving the realm of possibilities for the "real" world. Seeing that Juliet is getting away, Romeo quickly asks her "Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" Juliet stops and responds that there isn't anything else she can give Romeo except the vow of love she already gave without being asked. At Romeo's marriage proposal, she smiles, jumps into Romeo's arms and submerges them both in the pool effectively baptizing him as her true love and husband-to-be. As Donaldson points out "the ease with which the lovers find a place to meet [the pool] and kiss augured a more permanent mode in which their love could continue."
Water isn't the only symbolism Luhrmann uses. The most easily recognized...