West Side Story: Spielberg’s less talked-about masterpiece

Iftekharul Islam | Monday, 25 April 2022

Two lovers from two communities yearn to be together, but the families they belong to are rivals. They are divided by gangs, conflicting for domination over territory they will soon lose. Can the lovers be united amid adversity?

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story narrates the story of it.

Steven Spielberg is a prominent filmmaker with a career spanning over six decades. He experimented with different genres in movies and achieved success in most of them, making him the most commercially successful director of all time.

His latest film West Side Story is a musical, a movie genre he had never explored before. Still, as a seasoned director, he skillfully executed his filmmaking ability and pulled off a masterpiece.

The plot is not an original story instead of from a Broadway by the same name made in 1957. The play was first adapted as a movie in 1961, albeit some part of the plot differs from Spielberg’s version adapting to the present era culture and beliefs.

The two lovers of the story are Tony and Maria, where the former is a member of the Jets, a white youth gang, and the latter is the sister of the Puerto Rican youth gang Sharks leader Bernardo living in the ‘50s version of America.

The gangs fight over the control of a neighbourhood, although the area will be inevitably demolished to build a cultural center. Spielberg adds the real-life reference here where the immigrants’ neighbourhood in Manhattan was displaced to make place for Lincoln Center.

The leaders of the two gangs have different views. While the Jets gang leader Riff only seeks control over the neighbourhood, Sharks leader Bernardo is torn between choosing the American life his girlfriend Anita seeks and going back to his home in Puerto Rico, as he will always be discriminated against here.

But the Tony-Maria relationship does not seem to be strained by the conflicts; they dream of being together forever, and their family rivalries be gone. But the rivalry takes a worse turn when Tony kills Bernando in a gang war, making his relationship with Maria complicated.

The plot depicts the futile conflicts over the community soon to be lost by gentrifications. Spielberg also deals with systematic racism the people of the colour face most of the time, differing from the 1961 counterpart.

These depictions resonate with the immigrant community of America, who faces injustices regularly.

While West Side Story was not commercially successful, it was critically acclaimed. The exciting plot and cinematography prove Spielberg’s expertise as a filmmaker. At the same time, the choreography by Justin Peck was stunning to watch and pays tribute to the original musical made in the ‘60s.

The movie earned seven nominations at the latest Oscars, where Ariana DeBose, a prominent actress on Broadway, won the Best Supporting Actress as Anita.

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