West Side Story Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The New Montagues and Capulets: The Meaning of West Side Story (2021). Is another film adaptation of Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy Romeo and Juliet. The director decided to transfer the plot of the film “West Side Story” to modern realities, leaving the main essence: love, which is hindered by hatred. The story is quite banal, which is probably why the film failed at the box office, not reaching the payback threshold. At the same time, the audience and film critics took the work favorably.

Country : USA

Genre : musical, drama, crime

Year of production : 2021

Director : Steven Spielberg

Cast : Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Mike Feist, Ariana DeBos, David Alvarez

tagline : “A divided city. Their love will change everything.”

Awards and Nominations : Best Picture category at the 94th Academy Awards, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, Best Supporting Actress in a Movie.

Plot Analysis of West Side Story

West Side Story is a spectacular musical set in 1960s New York. The content of the film immediately introduces the viewer to the “Rockets” – a street gang that is trying to establish control over the San Juan Hill quarter, which is located in Manhattan’s West Side. Guys bully Puerto Ricans in every possible way – migrants who consider this place their home. Actually, from this moment the description of the film should begin.

Rocket street gangFrame from the film.

The musical opens with the Rockets painting a Puerto Rican flag painted on a wall. This draws the attention of the Shark gang. As a result, a fight breaks out, which is stopped by the arrival of Sergeant Krapke. Lieutenant Shrank explains to the members of both factions that their feud is pointless. The quarter is scheduled for demolition, work is already underway, and soon a completely different life will begin here, in which there will be no Rockets and Sharks. However, the arguments of the police guys are not convincing. A big showdown is brewing.

To reconcile the warring factions, the school authorities sponsor a dance evening, which is attended by the “Sharks” and “Rockets”. The leader of the white gang, Riff, invites his close friend Tony, with whom they founded the group together, to the event. Tony refuses. He was recently released on parole from prison, is under supervision and is not going to get into a showdown.

Shark leader Bernardo invites his sister Maria to a party, whom Chino is trying to woo to his friend. Maria has only recently arrived in America, so she is just getting used to a new country.

Rachel ZeglerRachel Zegler played the role of Maria. Frame from the film.

At the dance, Maria meets Tony, who also decided to come to the event. A spark immediately runs between the young people, but Bernardo immediately stops their light flirting. The guy is furious, so he agrees to Riff’s conditions to arrange a showdown, the winner of which will receive power over the quarter. However, the leader of the “Sharks” puts forward his demand – Tony must be present at it.

Meanwhile, the love component of West Side Story continues to evolve. Tony sneaks Maria home, where they agree to meet the next day. A relationship begins to form between them. Meanwhile, the factions are preparing for a big fight. Riff buys a gun, confident that the Puerto Ricans will also be armed. News of the upcoming big fight reaches the police, who try to prevent a showdown by interrogating the Rockets, but they are silent.

Maria and Tony swear their love to each other, while the girl persuades her boyfriend to stop the fight. The guy honestly tries to do it, but to no avail. At the appointed hour, the groups converge at the salt warehouse. Tony also comes here, but he doesn’t want to fight, he tries to talk to Bernardo. However, the leader of the “Sharks” does not want to hear anything. A fight breaks out between Tony and Bernardo. Tony knocks his opponent down, strikes him, but stops in time, realizing that it was because of such a beating that he ended up behind bars.

However, the flywheel has already started. Bernardo and Riff begin a knife fight, resulting in the latter being fatally stabbed in the chest. Seeing the death of a friend, Tony kills Bernardo in a fit of rage. The participants of the disassembly scatter.

Ansel ElgortTony is played by Ansel Elgort. Frame from the film.

Tony comes home to Maria, who already knows about the death of his brother from Chino. The guy is going to surrender to the police, but the girl forbids him to do so. Beloved finds Anita, who returned home after identifying Bernardo.

Tony leaves, a conversation takes place between the girls, and Anita realizes that Maria sincerely loves the guy. Lieutenant Shrank arrives at the apartment, trying to find Tony. Maria knows that he is hiding in the shop of Valentina, an elderly woman who works for her. The girl covertly invites Anita to go there and warn her lover.

Anita arrives at the store and is confronted by the Rockets, who are mourning their leader. The gang members begin to insult the girl, and even try to rape her. This scene is interrupted by Valentine. Offended, Anita reports that Chino killed Maria and leaves.

Valentina tells Tony about it. The guy runs outside and yells for Chino to kill him too. Suddenly, he sees Maria, who is walking down the street with a suitcase: the young people have agreed to move away and start life from scratch. Tony runs towards her but doesn’t see Chino appearing from behind. Chino shoots Tony in the back and kills him.

Maria takes the gun from the killer, asks how much ammo is left in order to shoot as many “Rockets” and “Sharks” as possible, standing nearby and shoot herself. At the end of West Side Story, Maria throws her gun on the ground. The Rockets and Sharks pick up the dead Tony in their arms and carry him away. Mary follows this funeral procession. Chino stays with Valentina on the deserted street and meets the approaching police cars. End.

Shark Gang vs Rocket GangFrame from the film.

Musical and tragedy by Shakespeare

In general, Steven Spielberg managed to reproduce the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy as accurately as possible, adding a little drive and colorful scenery to the plot. Of course, the musical differs markedly from the real story, but the idea is conveyed to the viewer accurately. For example, the balcony scene looks very epic, where the main characters realize their love for the first time. The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by warring street gangs, so Tony and Maria’s feelings will have to break through the well-established hatred.

However, the ending of the story is different. In the original, Juliet drinks a potion to make everyone think she’s dead. Seeing her, Romeo poisons himself. When Juliet comes to her senses and sees the lifeless body of her beloved, she stabs herself with a dagger. During the funeral of lovers, the Montagues and the Capulets forget about their long-standing enmity.

Spielberg leaves Maria alive. At the same time, the factions also forget about the struggle for power and together carry away Tony’s dead body.

The meaning of the film West Side Story

The essence of the film “West Side Story” lies in the senselessness and futility of the actions of all participants in the story. Maria and Tony are sure they can be together, but they are prevented from reuniting by Bernardo and Riff. Both leaders pursue personal ambitions, and even manage to play the lovers card to their advantage. After all, it is Tony’s participation that stimulates the Sharks to join the big showdown.

At the same time, there is no point in a planned fight. The paradox of the situation is that both street gangs are trying to assert their power over an almost non-existent neighborhood. Soon there will be no residential buildings here, and no one will remember about the “Rocket” and “Sharks”. However, this key aspect does not bother anyone, and the members of the groups are determined to bring their plan to the end.

Against this background, the meaning of the actions of Tony and Maria remains somewhat incomprehensible. If a girl is too naive and believes that good always triumphs over evil, and love is stronger than hate, Tony must be clearly aware of the nature of things. He needed to immediately make the right decision, not to cling to the shadows of the past and take Mary away as far as possible. After all, the quarter has a strong influence on him.

Yes, Tony is trying to be right, but as soon as he finds himself in his usual environment of street fights, he breaks down and beats Bernard very famously. The scene is quite significant, and its explanation is that if Tony stays in the old place, his life will not change. He should understand this, but he makes the right decision too late.

At the same time, the hidden meaning of the film “West Side Story” is very subtly twisted around accidents. Tony accidentally ends up at a dance party where he meets Maria. Around this time, a grand showdown between the gangs is accidentally brewing, although the feud between the Rockets and the Sharks must have been going on for more than one year. By chance, Chino hopes for a relationship with Maria, and probably banal jealousy makes him shoot Tony in the back in the end. By chance, Anita almost becomes a victim of violence, although nothing like this has been observed for the Rockets before, and in retaliation lies about the murder of Maria, pushing Tony to death.

Mary with gunsFrame from the film.

A large number of accidents turns into a pattern, which leads to the idea that the relationship between Tony and Maria was initially doomed to failure, despite the outbreak of love and passion. Perhaps that is why Spielberg left the girl alive. Maria has known true love, but at the same time she has every chance to live a long and happy life, get married, have children. Perhaps this is the most logical explanation for the musical’s ending.

Movies similar to West Side Story

  • Death Clique (USA, 2014). Jealousy leads to the death of one of the three friends, and now the mother is trying to achieve justice.
  • The Sound of Music (USA, 1965). The love story of a young governess and a retired sea captain.
  • Bad Turn Worse (USA, 2013). Three teenagers are trying to leave the godforsaken town, but suddenly find themselves embroiled in a mafia showdown.
  • Foxfire: Ragazze cattive (France, 2012). An all-girl youth gang is challenging the fabric of society.

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