“Don’t you dare touch him!” The young woman cast herself across her lover, tears forming trails of ache across her chaste cheeks.
The gang members and police force took a collective step back as they witnessed the young woman’s sobbing.
West Side Story taps the talent of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, conveying to viewers a passionate but politically challenging tale of two lovers from unlike worlds. Directed by Robert Wise, the story highlights flamboyant dancing and charming songs that either cause chuckling or sighing.
Young Maria is a naïve immigrant from Puerto Rico. Little does she know, but her brother, Bernardo, and the American boys of an Upper West Side city in New York have gotten into rumbles and formed gangs to claim turf. Maria attends a dance which, to the adult chaperones, is merely a blithe occasion for diluted punch and dowdy dance moves. But to the two gangs—the Jets and the Sharks—it’s warfare. As the two sides brandish their moves, Maria is drawn to Tony, a boy who used to lead the Jets. Bernardo loathes the idea of his sister socializing with an American, but Maria and Tony are inseparable. They meet covertly, and even swear to love each other for eternity.
The gang violence escalates until the Jets's leader, Riff, decides to end the brawl once and for all. The Jets and Sharks rendezvous for a conclusive fight. But the superficially innocent dual shifts to a blood bath after Tony shows up, imploring (at Maria’s request) that the skirmish stop. Bernardo kills Riff, the boy Tony thought of as a brother. Tony stabs Bernardo in anger . . . and both gangs realize what they’ve done.
Watch the rest of West Side Story to find out if the blood will ever stop spilling . . .
The film drew me into its essence from the start. Dance and song artistically crafted its beginning—no words were stated in the first few minutes, but I could easily understand what was going on. The colors shone vivaciously until the movie took a disastrous turn at the end. The songs twitched my heart strings—Maria and Tony were so deep in love, not even Tony’s murder could sway Maria from agreeing to leave town with him. Their romance was truly once in a lifetime.
At first look, the movie surfaces as an intense romance. However, one must push past the rosy veil and identify the movie’s true message: not interminable love, but homicidal hate. In the end, hate is much more forceful than love—love may salvage someone for a moment, but hate can devastate them all over again. Hate is addicting and breeds like a virus. Its escalation leads only to devastation.
At the beginning of this movie, Maria is thrilled to begin her sanguine life in America. But by the movie’s culmination, she has lost her brother, her lover, and her optimism . . . and discovered just how evil the world can be. All of this bloodshed and weeping occurs in a little over a day, displaying the difference 24 hours can make in lives.
Although the policeman in West Side Story initially appeared concerned with justice, the end of the movie discloses his true colors—racism towards the PRs. He didn’t care a bit for those whose skin was tinged with copper. The American Constitution alleges that “all men are created equal,” but every ethnic group to set foot on the seemingly idyllic shores of America has travelled its share of bumpy roads. The white man, although wrong, automatically had the “right of way.” This inequality had always—and will always—kindle drive and determination for those being persecuted, fueling the path for eventual triumph.
In light of the current gun control issue, this movie should be viewed with utmost deliberation. Even though the movie was released nearly fifty years ago—in 1961—its relevance is obvious. This quote from Maria particularly struck me:
“People aren't killed by bullets and guns; people are killed by hate.”
Those who yearn for eternal love will relish this romantic masterpiece; but even more so, those whose political stance regarding gun control is wavering should take a peek into the lives of 1950 teenagers . . . who fought over a side of the road.