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The movie West Side Story was filmed in 1961. It was based off a play, which was based off of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story is about two rival gangs, and how a member of the opposing gang falls in love with each other. The conflict in the movie is so intense that it’s easy to forget that these gang members are all teenagers. The adults in this film have important roles that they are incapable of filling.
Lieutenant Shrank and Officer Krupke are just two examples of adults in this story. They play a vital role, even though it seems as if they don’t add much. That’s the point; these two adult men hold positions of power, and should be acting responsibly towards the gangs. However, these two fail drastically at their job, to a point where one could surmise they’ve just given up entirely. If anything, they just show up and cause more trouble. For example, they show up at the playground where both gangs are, and instead of punishing them both equally, Shrank goes on to make a few racist comments. Once the Sharks leave the area, after being ordered out by Shrank, he remarks, “Boy oh boy, as if this neighborhood wasn’t crummy enough!” This comment alone shows that he holds the same, racist mindset as the Jets; they don’t want the Sharks in their neighborhood. Another example is how Officer Shrank knows of the brawl, and tries to get them to tell the location of it, rather than stop it entirely.
These two men are large symbols of the juvenile justice system, and how during this time, it failed most kids. They also represent the “man”, or the law, and how these kids are looked down upon for being misfits, poor, and young. An example of this is when Shrank says to the Jets, “Sure it’s a free country and I ain’t got the right. But I got a badge. What have you got?” This example shows that he’s essentially flaunting the fact that he has power in the boys’ faces, and they’re incapable of doing anything because he equates their worth to close to nothing. He tells them that he’s capable of putting a stop to their gang indefinitely, but because their worth so little to him, doing so would actually be a waste of his time. Despite being hateful all around, both Shrank and Krupke show even more scorn towards the Sharks specifically because of their race. Which is a prime example of how despite the Jets and Sharks hold a similar social status, the Sharks are still worse off because their discriminated due to their race.
Lastly, there are two adults who aren’t as problematic as Shrank and Krupke, but also aren’t extremely helpful either. Glad Hand, the adult chaperone at the dance, was a naive man who was just trying to get everyone to befriend one another and intermingle. Of course, his efforts failed when everyone just went back to who they were originally with, but he had good intentions. Doc is another adult who had good intentions, but unfortunately he didn’t put in enough effort towards stopping the two gangs from brawling. He allowed them to meet in his store and discuss plans, and even though he attempted to intervene, he was ultimately pushed away. He gave up trying, instead of trying to be persistent and to actually put a stop to what they were planning. Also, he was just as naive as the teenagers. While he was heroic in saving Anita from the Jets, his compassion ended there and he didn’t do much else to help her. When she angrily left his store, after declaring that Maria was dead, he believed her and relayed the message to Tony immediately. Instead of trying to use logic and reasoning, or at least deciding to wait, he tells Tony who gets upset and goes out looking for Chino to kill him. Had he been responsible and told Tony the news when he had a clear head, the events that occurred after might not have happened. Doc had good intentions, but unfortunately he just didn’t intervene as much as he should’ve.
West Side Story is a riveting tale between two teenage gangs. It can be very easy to forget the fact that these characters are teenagers, because the conflict they face is so intense. There are two adults in this movie are symbols of important themes such as discrimination, and also represent how the system failed many children. There are also adults who had good intentions, but unfortunately didn’t do enough in order to avoid tragedy.
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