Essay on Mimicry in Films
Number of words: 1181
The modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s 1595 play Romeo and Juliet is Arthur Laurent’s 1961 Westside Story, all about tragic love stories. Westside Story is a musical film where the song presents the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks. Romeo and Juliet is a play in which the protagonists speak and act out their minds using Shakespeare’s poetic verbatim to present the rival between Capulets and the Montagues. Together with other captivating similarities, Westside Story tries in a new light to recreate the same characters as in Romeo and Juliet. Contrary to its differences, the two storylines portray their similarities through; the themes, characters, and feuds.
The first similarity in both plays is that they portray similar themes. The notion that blind love leads to irrational decisions is apparent. In Romeo and Juliet, the two lovebirds believe their love is at first sight. Romeo swears not to have seen a true beauty and confesses his love towards Julia, ignoring Rosaline’s existence1(Prezi.Com.). Julia is already dreaming of getting married to Romeo, yet he does not even know his name. In the end, they kill each other because they believe they cannot survive without one another. In Westside Story, Tony and Maria meet moments before, and they kiss, notwithstanding leaving each other’s sight. Tony goes to Maria’s balcony later, where they confessed their affection for one another. “Maria works at a bridal shop, and the lovers enact a mock wedding ceremony, knowing it is not real but feeling it to be”2 (Rapajić, Svetozar. p. 34). In anger, Tony looks for Chino after knowing Maria is dead, but he finds Maria at the last moment where Chino shot him before giving her a passionate hug. Maria grieves Tony’s death and does not see meaning in her life, although she did not commit suicide. In both narratives, the illustration of the thinking that blind love will lead to reckless decisions is present.
A strong relation can easily be observed between the characters. Tony fits the character of Romeo, while Maria resembles Juliet’s character. Romeo and Tony are portrayed as strong young men who stay steadfast and brave to follow Juliet and Maria’s forbidden love, respectively3(Kaznocha, Anna.). Bernardo can be described as Tybalt with his temper and need to fight, while Riff’s jester character resembles Mercutio. Anita, watching over Maria, is portrayed as the nurse, and Chino resembles Paris, where they are both expected to marry the starring female characters. Just as Paris is scheduled to marry Juliet, Maria is set to marry Chino. In both films, the lovers’ meeting eventually begins in a dance in which Mercutio and Riff convince both Romeo and Tony, respectively, to participate for various purposes. Mercutio wants Romeo to go and see the other ladies and forget about Rosaline, while Riff needs Tony to go to deal with the Sharks’ feud. Like Romeo and Juliet at a party, Tony and Maria encounter at the dance where they witness “love at first sight.” The balcony scenes are also present in both instances where Maria and Tony meet to confess their love while Romeo and Juliet kiss. Therefore, the characters in both films resemble.
Besides, the two films revolve around feuds between the two groups. Throughout Westside Story, it is quite clear that the author centers around the fight between the Jets and the Sharks over who the turf belongs to, while in Romeo and Juliet, it centers around conflicting tribal families. “In this new musical, Shakespeare’s feudal hatred between two aristocratic
families were replaced by the cultural and ethnic clashes between two disadvantaged lower-class juvenile gangs fighting over territory.”4 (Rapajić, Svetozar. 34)Both gangs comprise adolescents since the Italian and Puerto Rican communities do not have anything sensible to battle for. Neither party is explicitly maintaining authority or being the Other, but both demonstrate proof of nationality distinction. However, the film’s police are mildly biased towards the Sharks but never comment on the Jets, as they are a common ethnicity in New York, giving the Jets a slight amount of agency. Romeo and Juliet also have competing tribes but in a family context. There are two rival families, The Capulets, and The Montagues—the story centers around both of these families and what comes from each group. Compared to Westside Story, as they seem equal, not one group has a specific entity5. However, the first line describes their social class, “Two households, both alike in dignity” (RJ, Prologue, 1)5. The integrity of the two families provides in-text insights about the class. The feuds in both plays persuade the narrative and make the story interesting.
Conversely, the two plays have several differences. Beginning with the rivalry, Westside Story’s actual feud is between the Jets and the Sharks, from different ethnicities, over the turf. In Romeo and Juliet, the feud is between the Montagues and Capulets families, without any apparent reason, just family hate6(Cabaj, Justyna.). In the fight scenes, Romeo behaves impulsively as Tybalt murders Mercutio and tries to attack Tybalt soon afterward. On the other hand, Tony does not kill Bernardo when Bernardo stabs Riff with his knife. Romeo is finally exiled, though Tony has no real consequences for his deeds7(Kaznocha, Anna). Another major difference is in the death scenes. Romeo commits suicide because he believes Juliet is dead, and Juliet sees him dead and kills herself. Meanwhile, Tony does not commit suicide, but instead, just before embracing Maria, Chino shoots him. His death does not lead Maria to take her own life, but instead, he forgives the two gangs and goes on with her life. Therefore, despite having similarities, both plays differ.
In conclusion, contrary to its differences, the two storylines portray their similarities through; the themes, characters, and feuds. The theme of love and rivalry clearly indicates how the two films are similar. The equal character personalities show how Arthur’s story is just a modification of Shakespear’s. In the end, although Maria lived, the death of the characters brings reconciliation in both feuding families and the gangs. The similarities between Shakespear’s and Arthur Laurent’s movies are interesting and show how the Westside Story is a mimic of Romeo and Juliet.
Kaznocha, Anna. “Westside Story as a Musical Adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.” (2020).
Cabaj, Justyna. “Depiction of motifs of love and hatred from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in its selected film adaptations.” (2019).
Rapajić, Svetozar. “SHAKESPEARE IN MUSIC THEATRE: Westside STORY.” LANGUAGE & LITERATURE STUDIES: 32-36.
Romeo & Juliet: https://youtu.be/RWBcq9BXQ0k
“Romeo And Juliet Vs. Westside Story”. 2015. Prezi.Com. https://prezi.com/xnmwhizj8tnx/romeo-and-juliet-vs-west-side-story/#:~:text=Similarities,its%20love%20at%20first%20sight.