Where did the time go when love was the most precious commodity of all? When loving someone sparked a flurry of butterflies in the stomach, a longing for that special other half, to love and respect them ‘til death do us part, that person who was the only thing in existence, shadowing everything else. Modern life has brought with it many revolutionary changes and with them, huge advances in technology, evolution, and knowledge. Alas, these advances have come at the expense the most basic and primitive element of all: love. It’s not that we’ve stopped loving, we just do so in another way. As such, after watching the great Steven Spielberg’s recently revamped West Side Story, you wouldn’t be shot for feeling that we are no longer the same. The 21st century has heralded in a new age of certain dehumanization, a stress from living in the here and now, due to rapid consumption; for entertainment that separate us from what before didn’t make us forget everything.
Spielberg’s gift to us is that of a souvenir. A memory of what we used to be, to observe how love flourishes between two teenagers, Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort), in the fifties, just like Romeo and Juliet, and that’s something we practically have to search our memory banks for. Love at first sight, desire; an “I adore you” which today is difficult for us to pronounce, because we’re distracted by other things. The love story laid out before our eyes seems to be part of the past, almost corny seeing how tough-skinned we’ve all become. That declaration of love on the fire escape, the men on bended knees as they proclaim their eternal love, “forever”… all but a distant memory for most of us. The director rescues two characters, blinded by love to remind us of one of life’s most wonderful experiences, and to leave us with no doubt that those who have not loved in life, in reality, have not truly lived.
West Side Story, based on the original 1961 montage, is, in itself, beautifully choreographed, complete with unforgettable dance routines in the purest style of the Broadway musical, and settings brilliantly recreated drawing on everything offered by today’s resources. That classic ‘I want to live in America’ in the middle of the streets of New York is a delight. Anita (Ariana DeBose) is amazing, in that fantastic yellow dress, while not forgetting the touch of humor the white gang, the Jets, bring to the police station scene, when they laugh at Officer Krupke. And the voices… That of the angelic Maria is a straight line to the heavens, and Tony’s voice has the capacity to make anyone fall in love. The two form a sensational duet, despite their more than remarkable difference in height, a feature we already saw in the original film. The cast chosen for this occasion is one of the movies greatest achievements, highlighting the relationship of desire between Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the rival gang, the Sharks, and Anita, whose performance has us crying when that tragic moment occurs. And we’ve even graced by an appearance from Rita Moreno, the actress who played Anita in the 1961 film and who here plays the Latina Valentina, a version of the original character Doc, and who interestingly enough protects the white teenagers.
Although we may have partially forgotten what it means to love, the film features one major conflict that remains perfectly intact today: racism. We handle it better than before, perhaps, but some continue to think that Latin Americans, Moroccans or any other ethnic group other than their own is gaining ground on us, and that insane idea that ‘they come here, have children, take away our jobs and they are absorbing what used to be ours’, only ours. Despite managing to hide it better today than before, we still resist when it comes to mixing with those arriving from foreign shores. They stay on their side, and we stay on ours and although we may not face off with fists and knives like the gangs in the film, there are still some who today may feel their noses are put slightly out of joint if a Puerto Rican family moves into their building, the country that represents immigration arriving in New York in search of opportunity and the American dream in Spielberg’s film. As such, and although we might have matured emotionally making it more difficult today for us to believe in eternal love, the distance we maintain with those who do not have the same traits as us remains well and truly in place.