Romeo and Juliet (Film 1996)

Romeo and Juliet (Film 1996) Summary and Analysis of the Wedding Sequence & Tybalt and Mercutio's Death Scenes


We meet Father Laurence in a conservatory surrounded by altar boys, tending to his plants. He delivers a monologue saluting the alternately poisonous and medicinal powers of plants and herbs. Romeo arrives and beseeches Father Laurence to consent to marry him and Juliet later that day. Father Laurence expresses concern that Romeo has forgotten Rosaline and become infatuated with Juliet so quickly, but also weighs the fact that Romeo and Juliet's betrothal has the potential to put an end to the disastrous feud that has set their families against each other for generations.

As Romeo helps Father Laurence with his frock and stole, a boys' choir starts to sing "When Doves Cry" by Prince. Standing next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, Father Laurence gazes off and begins to imagine the positive impact this marriage could have on all of Verona, triggering a montage sequence in which a wave of flames and newspaper headlines bespeaking an "ancient grudge," give way to the images of a dove flying across the screen, imagined reports of a Montague-Capulet truce, and a crimson heart in the foreground of the flames. Genuinely believing that Romeo and Juliet's marriage could turn their "household rancor to pure love," Father Laurence finally agrees. Romeo is overjoyed, stumbling over a giant candle in his haste. Father Laurence warns him to be cautious.

The scene shifts back to the raucous atmosphere of Sycamore Grove. Benvolio is on a pay phone trying to reach Romeo, and both he and Mercutio seem frustrated with Romeo's absence. Benvolio and Mercutio play-fight on the beach, twirling their revolvers, making light of Tybalt's reputation as a fearsome duelist. Romeo shows up and the boys tease him for giving them the "slip" the night prior. Mercutio and Romeo spar, impugning each others' masculinity, until they wind up wrestling in the sand. When Romeo looks up, The Nurse is standing there in a bright red dress, hat, and heels, with a Capulet body-man next to her holding her purse.

The boys continue to tease Romeo as The Nurse takes him aside. Romeo reassures a worried-looking Mercutio that he will not abandon him. The Nurse sternly questions Romeo's intentions, but Romeo quells her reservations, and instructs her to tell Juliet to come to confession that afternoon. Back at the Capulet mansion, The Nurse leisurely makes herself a cup of tea as Juliet desperately pleads with her to tell her Romeo's message. Knowing she is in a position of power, The Nurse cajoles Juliet into massaging her back. Finally, after much begging on Juliet's part, The Nurse tells her joyfully that if she has permission to go to confession today, Romeo will be waiting for her there to marry her.

At the church, a choir sings as Juliet walks in a sleeveless dress down the aisle toward Romeo, flanked by Balthasar at his side as their witness. The Nurse, also present, tearfully watches from the back of the room as Father Laurence reads their vows at the altar. They kiss and are wed. Back at Sycamore Grove, Mercutio is alone, twirling his revolver in the surf. Benvolio suggests they leave, noticing Capulets and fearing that a brawl may unfold. As Tybalt and the other approach, Benvolio looks tense but Mercutio remains willfully oblivious. After Mercutio mocks Tybalt's simmering rage, Tybalt accuses Mercutio of "consorting" with Romeo, triggering Mercutio's rage.

Romeo arrives, and Tybalt announces his intention to kill him. Abra empties the chamber of Tybalt's gun so one bullet remains. Romeo refuses to duel and retreats, but Tybalt chases after him and begins to brutally beat and kick him. Still refusing to fight, Romeo hands his own gun to Tybalt and tells him to "be satisfied." As Tybalt continues to beat Romeo with his hands and feet, Mercutio intervenes, smashing Tybalt into a glass frame on the ground. As Romeo tries to remove Mercutio from the fray, Tybalt slashes him with a shard of glass. Although Mercutio avers it's but a "scratch," the wound appears fatal. Mercutio unleashes an anguished scream, cursing both of their houses, and dies in Romeo's arms.

A distraught Romeo chases after the Capulets, and night falls on Verona. In her quiet bedroom, Juliet delivers a rapturous soliloquy in which she anticipates and longs for Romeo's company. We then see Romeo delirious with rage in a speeding car. He purposefully smashes headlong into Tybalt's vehicle, sending it spiraling into the air. Tybalt crawls out of the wreckage and grabs his gun from the ground, and a crazed Romeo holds it to his own forehead and demands that "either thou or I or both must go with [Mercutio]." Tybalt hesitates and stumbles, the gun clatters to the ground, and Romeo seizes it. He issues a torrent of bullets into Tybalt's body, which splashes into a fountain. Romeo cries out that he is fortune's fool, and a concerned Balthasar leads him away from the scene.

The Chief of Police arrives, along with the Capulet and Montague patriarchs and matriarchs. Gloria Capulet cries out that Romeo must be executed. Ted Montague argues that Romeo exacted the kind of revenge for Mercutio's slaying that common law would support. The Chief of Police decides to banish Romeo from Verona under penalty of death. Romeo, hiding under the care of Father Laurence, laments his fate, considering banishment worse than death. The Nurse appears, giving Romeo a ring from Juliet, which lifts his spirits. Father Lawrence instructs Romeo to escape to Mantua.


Father Laurence is a key driver of the events and plot of the play—one who constantly helps Romeo and Juliet along in their plans to be together, offers sound advice and counsel in their times of desperation and need, and agrees to perform their marriage ceremony. His virtuous desire for peace, which leads him to fantasize in vain about the union bringing about a truce between the Montague and Capulet houses, is what informs Luhrmann's decision to integrate a boys' choir version of Prince's "When Doves Cry" into the soundtrack. Contrasting with images of wild, destructive flames, the dove is a symbol for peace that appears flying across the screen at the end of Father Laurence's visionary monologue, in which he imagines newspaper headlines heralding the end of the Montague-Capulet feud.

Benvolio and Mercutio's rehearsal of a duel on the beach while discussing the fearsome duelist Tybalt reasserts the primacy of the feud and serves as a kind of discourse on masculinity and homophobic homoeroticism. The scene provides a theatrical display linking performative masculinity to violent spectacle, as symbolized by gestures such as the boys' intricate revolver twirling tricks. Romeo and Mercutio competitively trade barbs designed to emasculate the other after Mercutio scolds Romeo for giving them the "slip" the night prior, and at various points affect effeminate, stereotypically gay voices in order to mock one another.

Their heated conversation, in which they are both jockeying for status but also perhaps quarreling like lovers, is actually a much longer and bawdier one in Shakespeare's play, cut short in Luhrmann's film by a homoerotic wrestling match on the beach, broken up by the arrival of The Nurse. Her presence among the boys symbolizes the social, cultural, and intellectual breakages between the male homosocial sphere of bachelorhood and the private heterosexual coupling of traditional marriage. In the original play, Mercutio admits to Romeo: "Why is not this better than groaning for love? / now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature."

Luhrmann omits these lines and renders Mercutio's longing for Romeo more in a vein of quiet intensity. The camera tracks his movements as he follows behind Romeo and finally fires his gun into the sky upon being ignored. Harold Perrineau reads Mercutio's parting question, "Will you come to your father's? We'll to dinner thither," with a genuine note of fear and desperation. Luhrmann thus tees up Mercutio's unspoken but simmering desire for Romeo as a plot point that will come to bear on the story, as it does when Tybalt accuses Mercutio of "consort[ing]" with Romeo at Sycamore Grove, a public homophobic slander. Mercutio's retort—"Does that make us minstrels?"--could apply either to the stigmatization of queer bodies in contemporary America, or the violence and discrimination waged against African-Americans in Los Angeles, given that Luhrmann cast Perrineau, a black actor, in the role of Mercutio.

The theme of the holy spectacle of male violence reaches its apex when Tybalt formally challenges Romeo to a duel in front of the massive proscenium arch on Sycamore Grove. Virtually every young man throughout the film has carried a gun, wielding it like a proxy muscle or phallus, seemingly ready for a duel at any time. The homoerotic, ritualistic, ceremonial aspect of the duel, such as when Abra empties and readies Tybalt's chamber, is emphasized. When Romeo stops Mercutio from doing the same, the formal logic of the encounter breaks down, leaving Tybalt "unsatisfied." Luhrmann manifests the emotional intensity of Mercutio's unjust slaying on screen with a turbulent storm that rushes into Sycamore Grove, destroying the beachfront and blowing away objects—the wages of the "curse" that Mercutio lays on both the Montagues and Capulets with his dying breath.