The Lives, Loves and Losses of Leo in Luhrmann: Romeo Montague v. Jay Gatsby

Audiences have come to expect plenty of razzle dazzle when watching a Baz Luhrmann film, and this weekend's The Great Gatsby,with its exuberant Roaring Twenties setting, is no exception. This marks Leonardo DiCaprio's second time working with the over-the-top director in films based on literature the majority of people the world over are required to sparknote read in school (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby), meaning expectations are high. He was barely aging out of his growing pains when he starred in Romeo + Juliet in 1996, and has since grown into an actor worthy of wearing Gatsby's shiny loafers. While the roles could not be more different, similar themes exist between the two characters. Without further ado, let's take a look at the lives, loves and losses of Leo in Luhrmann. 


Romeo Montague - Luhrmann updated this classic tale of star-crossed lovers by turning the fair city of Verona into the trippy Verona Beach, and the noble houses of Montague and Capulet into powerful gangs. Born into the powerful Montague faction with a silver spoon in his mouth and a golden gun in his hand, things in Verona Beach are pretty bomb for young Romeo. He's got the coolest, most sexually ambiguous friends a guy could ask for, the sculpted abs of a 14-year-old doomed loverboy, and the face of an angel. Really the only thing that could go wrong for our fair Romeo would be falling in love with someone whom he is forbidden to love. Oh, wait... 

Jay Gatsby - Born James Gatz to a poor farming family in North Dakota, Gatsby would come to despise poverty and the limitations it put on life, which is surprising because being poor is usually so fun. When he meets a wealthy tycoon who invites him on a 10-year yacht trip, he jumps at the opportunity and changes his name to Jay Gatsby (sounds so much wealthier, dontcha think?). Spurred by Uncle Sam's call, Gatsby joins the army and fights in WWI, becoming a decorated soldier for his acts of valor. Postwar, Gatsby settles on Long Island at the height of the Jazz Age, using his charisma and his connections with gangsters to illegally sell alcohol (because jazz is no fun without booze), giving him the life he always dreamed of. The only thing missing is...


Juliet Capulet - Born into the noble family Montague, Romeo was taught at an early age to do one thing: hate Capulets. This task was much easier said than done before he laid eyes on sweet Juliet (Claire Danes), who just so happens to be a Capulet. You always want what you can't have, eh? Alas, Carrie Matheson’s Juliet’s beauty is too much to handle and s**t goes down hard and fast in Verona Beach.

Daisy Buchanan – While training for the war, 27-year-old Gatsby (er, Gatz) meets and falls in love with the young, blue-blooded Daisy Buchanan. Timing sucks, per usual, and James is shipped off to war while Daisy falls for and marries oafish fellow aristocrat Tom Buchanan. Upon his return from the war, Gatsby resolves to become a man of great power and wealth so that he can win back Daisy’s love. Of course things get complicated since Daisy is married and has a child, but what Gatsby wants, Gatsby gets. Oh, the things we do to get what we cannot have.


Romeo Montague – As with most tragedies, the losses are plenty for young Romeo. Along with his virginity, Romeo loses his innocence; his BFF, Mercutio; the love of his life; and, well, his own life. No one said teen angst was easy. With so many losses it’s hard to comprehend there can even be a silver lining, but hey, the crime rate in Verona Beach is about to plummet thanks to the woes of Juliet and her Rom(l)eo.

Jay Gatsby – Gatsby achieved greatness by loathing poverty and longing to impress a girl, and while his ability to spin his dreams into an opulent reality is impressive, the losses he endures are far more tragic. While he may have died a self-made millionaire, he never officially won Daisy’s hand, begging the question: was it all for not? If you’re looking to get all "AP Lit," we can also include the decline of the American Dream and the corruption of the wealthy as losses sustained.

So, if you're looking to feast your eyes on Leonardo DiCaprio goodness this weekend, be sure to check out The Great Gatsby in theaters. While you're at it, rewatch (or discover for the first time) Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet so you can compare Leo in Luhrmann for yourself. 


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