Romeo and Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann

Shakespeare, despite the astringent criticism of Tolstoy, has continued to have a profound impact on cultural production. This has not been confined to the stage. Numerous attempts have been made to translate Shakespeare into efforts appropriate for films and television. One of the bard’s most enduring tragedies, Romeo and Juliet, was attempted by director Baz Luhrmann during the last decade of the twentieth century.

The extravagant visual extravaganza was a clear example of postmodernism. There was a playful abandon about the spectacle. The timeless narrative was broken up by a powerful soundtrack, unsubtle imagery, and framed as a story within a story. Despite the gallant diligence of Pete Postlethwaite, the actors struggled to achieve coherence amid the colourful chaos. The tragic element of the tragedy was almost drowned out by the style of the Miami-Rio carnival.

However, the inherent weaknesses of postmodernism are more evident from a contemporary perspective than they were then. The film was made when the political projects of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were still alive. Many ordinary people were taken in by the compromises those manipulative politicians made. The ostentatious display of wealth as shown in the movie was a reflection of a postmodernist perspective which did not see the selective gaps in its own metanarrative.