Jessica Lahitou on some of the pervading notions on a romantic, ideal man, and how they surface and can be explained in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the classic “Romeo and Juliet”.
My weekend included a trip to Disney on Ice, reading an article that argued for updating Shakespeare into more easily understood prose (nay is my vote, but that’s for another time), and a good talk with friends that meandered its way into this question:
What movie made you fall in love with movies?
For me, the answer is easy: Baz Luhrmann’s inimitable tribute to youth culture, Romeo + Juliet. Not only did the film come out when I was at the tender age of thirteen, but it starred Leonardo DiCaprio. In a publication dedicated to men, I won’t go into great detail on the exuberant obsession that young actor evoked in countless teenage females. Just know it was great, and it was powerful.
But the movie itself made an even greater impression upon me than DiCaprio. I’d never seen that kind of cinematic artistry, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’d never even noticed things like camera angles, sound editing, soundtracks, and the like. In my world, movies just happened. A couple people showed up and said some lines in front of a camera, and somewhere off-screen sat a short, middle-aged man in a ball cap yelling “Action” and “Cut” and “That’s a Wrap.”
The night I sat in a sold-out suburban movie theater, surrounded by fellow teenagers, was the night I became aware of cinematic style. If you have seen any of his work, you know Luhrmann is unfettered in his devotion to earnest, epic sets and soundtracks. He’s rarely matched in creating a big mood, a grand sweep.
Such is the case with Romeo + Juliet. When DiCaprio’s Romeo first meanders across the screen, Radiohead plucking an electric chord progression that rendered depression sexy, an orange hazy sun of mammoth proportion slowly setting behind the forlorn romantic, half-smoked cigarette just dripping from that brooding mouth … Like I said before, this image was powerful.
So that was it for me, the movie that woke me up to the velocity of film upon one’s being.
And then today, sitting in an almost-full arena of parents with toddlers, watching Disney princess after Disney princess be rescued or entertained by her dutiful background prince, it occurred to me that we may really have Shakespeare to thank for some modern notions of “good” men. Notions that continue on in Disney iterations of romantic pairings.
Devotion, for instance. Romeo is nothing if not wholly devoted to Juliet. Devoted to the exclusion of all else, including the rather obvious family fallout his young bride will engender. So devoted that he jumps into an impromptu marriage after “knowing” Juliet for the span of… a day.
And yet, this is real love! And believe me, for many a young lady, this is real love indeed. Someone willing to drop to one knee and pop the question based on a physical attraction and a flirty conversation or two sounded exactly like real love to the teenaged me.
Disney has done a fair job of moving away from traditional notions of Prince Rescuer in recent times, but there does still appear to be a shockingly familiar refrain in these stories. Swaggering prince sees delicate lady and is immediately rendered incapacitated by love. One or two conversations ensue. Everything between the two is a perfect match. Naturally.
Secondly, Romeo is a Man of Action. He apparently suffers not bouts of “excessive consciousness.” Romeo sees Juliet. Romeo wants Juliet. Romeo gets Juliet. There’s a sweetness in the simplicity… until you get to the last scene of the play. Spoiler alert!
Disney princes are likewise known for their lack of thoughtful handwringing. He encounters his paramour – usually in a forest – and is in active motion to get her to the altar ASAP. We get no introspective monologues, no painstaking soul-searching along the lines of “Is she really the one?” Man sees. Man wants. Man gets. See that? Meaningful consideration just slows the Disney prince down.
Finally, Romeo is setup to be a good provider. Not that Juliet really needs it – her family is loaded as well – but if the Capulets ever fell on hard times, Romeo’s Montague wealth is ready and waiting to keep Juliet comfortable in her cushy lifestyle.
The correlation to Disney needs little analysis, given we are talking about princes. Fully equipped with requisite crown, steed, and castle. There’s no worry that Snow White might find herself filing for unemployment, or Cinderella return to her original day job.
Full disclosure: I loved Disney on Ice, and I’m a woman at ease in pink, with a daughter who epitomizes girly-girl. We’re talking a tutu for every day of the week, and a deep love of all things glittery.
And I find nothing at all wrong with youthful dreams of romantic perfection. That’s what youth is for: idealized notions of life. I had them (see teenage drooling adoration described above). And it’s fine for kids.
But I suppose I did not realize until I really thought through it, just how long I had held onto the hope of my own “Romeo.” Some impossibly cool brooder with poetry notebook in his back pocket, right next to a wallet with his family AMEX black card for those occasions that called for a helicopter ride or quick trip to Milan.
And I suppose too, we don’t really know how deeply these notions of the “ideal” man, the “good” man, have sunk into our broader cultural consciousness.
Which is too bad, since the real man I eventually married is not much like Romeo. He’s so very much better. Goofy and kind and wonderful with our kids. Incredibly handsome, but by no means a brooder. He works, at an actual job, and we make our home together, which is more interesting than moving into an already-furnished palace or ancestral estate.
So thanks a lot, Romeo. Maybe it was a similar disappointment on Shakespeare’s part that you can credit for the way that final scene went down.
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