Tips for Thought

West Side Story (1961): Why its Lessons still Resonate Today?

It has been over six decades since the release of “West Side Story,” yet its impact remains evergreen. A musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” this film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins took the stage by storm and subsequently cemented its place in cinematic history with its vibrant score, spectacular dance sequences, and timeless story of love and loss. While it remains an iconic piece of American cinema, what’s often overlooked are the life lessons the film quietly imparts. Here, we delve into this classic and examine the invaluable teachings that are just as relevant today as they were in 1961.

Before getting into the life lessons, it’s important to appreciate the cinematic aspects that make this film stand the test of time. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the film weaves a tapestry of song and dance that remains unparalleled. The ethnic divide between the Jets and the Sharks, rival gangs fighting for territory in New York City, serves as a backdrop to the budding romance between Tony and Maria, much like Romeo and Juliet. The film won a staggering 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and captivated audiences worldwide.

Lessons to Be Learned:

The Detriments of Blind Hatred

One of the most significant lessons this movie imparts is the destructive nature of blind hatred. The rivalry between the Jets, a white American gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, is not only senseless but devastating. They despise each other simply based on ethnic backgrounds, a behavior that leads to unimaginable sorrow and loss by the end of the movie. This serves as a warning that prejudice and hate can only yield tragic outcomes.

The Power of Love

In a world brimming with hostility, Tony and Maria’s love is a beacon that shines brightly. Their willingness to defy the norms of their clashing worlds and pursue their love is both brave and inspiring. However, it’s not just romantic love that the movie emphasizes; it also focuses on brotherly love, friendship, and community ties, teaching us that love in all its forms can be a potent force against the darker aspects of humanity.

The Consequences of Escalation

Throughout the movie, we see how small disputes escalate into life-altering events. One fight leads to another, culminating in devastating losses on both sides. This teaches us the value of de-escalation and how taking a moment to consider the bigger picture can spare us untold pain and regret.

The Futility of Revenge

After the murder of his best friend, Tony is consumed by a desire for vengeance, which only perpetuates the cycle of violence and ultimately leads to more tragedy. The movie starkly illustrates the futility of revenge and how it doesn’t bring back the ones we’ve lost but instead leads to more loss.

The Importance of Understanding and Empathy

A recurring theme is the lack of understanding and empathy among characters. Whether it’s the social worker trying to mediate between the gangs or the sincere efforts of some gang members to understand each other, the movie suggests that empathy and understanding could have prevented the series of tragic events. This lesson is ever relevant in our current times when division runs rampant.

In conclusion, “West Side Story” is not merely a product of its time; it is a timeless story that continues to captivate and teach. From illustrating the destructive nature of blind hatred to emphasizing the transformative power of love, the movie provides us with numerous life lessons that are profoundly relevant. As we watch Tony and Maria dance across the screen, caught in a world of escalating violence and blind prejudice, we are reminded that we have the power to change the narratives of our own lives, just as they tried to change theirs. The teachings of this six-decade-old film can serve as a moral compass guiding us through the complexities of modern life, making it a must-watch for all generations.

Watch the movie on Amazon Prime Video.