Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet opens with a prophetic message from its chorus. “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,” they warn, and thereby bind the play’s protagonists, Romeo and Juliet, to a tragic fate before their story has even begun. Director Baz Luhrmann engages the concept of fate in a number of his films, not least of which is his own rendition of the play: Romeo + Juliet. Set on a Florida boardwalk whipped right out of an early MTV reality show, it starts with a newscast that, in the same words of the play’s chorus, announces the suicides of the star-crossed lovers. Luhrmann employs a similar method in Moulin Rouge!, where he compels Christian (Ewan McGregor) to inform the audience of the death of his beloved in the opening scene, before we even meet her.
Despite their doomed prologues, though, it’s hard not to hope—and even believe—that our characters’ fates might just change as the narratives unfurl. And while a lot of this is likely due to the pathos with which they are portrayed, Luhrmann also affords them an air of rebellion that is both impossible to ignore and totally unique to his renditions of the stories. Where does this rebellion come from? Costume design.
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