As Colin Firth taught everyone during his infamous swim in the 1995 BBC edition of Pride and Prejudice, men are always hotter when they’re wet (ask your mom about it). This fact has perhaps never been proven to greater effect than it was in the pool scene in Romeo + Juliet, released 20 years ago last week. You know the one: Claire Danes is reciting Juliet’s famous balcony speech, when Romeo creeps up behind her and they both fall into the Capulet pool. Commence wetness, double entendre intended.
I first saw Romeo + Juliet in 2000, after reading the play in my eighth-grade English class. Our teacher, Mr. H, allowed us to watch the movie only after obtaining signed permission slips from our parents, due to the fact that 12-year-olds like myself were not technically old enough to watch movies with PG-13 ratings. As you can imagine, this only served to heighten the class’s interest, because any movie that required a parent’s permission had to be extremely scandalous. I don’t remember whether or not most of the class felt that R+J delivered on that promise, but I do know that the movie was immediately a hit among my circle of friends. I acquired a VHS copy, and within weeks the movie was a staple on the sleepover circuit. Though we were all tweens with little to no sexual experience, one scene in particular stood out as being very important: the pool scene.
In case you have forgotten exactly what happens in this scene, here’s a recap: Juliet’s family has just thrown a massive costume party, where Romeo spots her dressed as angel and immediately decides she’s the girl for him even though he was dating Rosaline, like, two seconds earlier. Romeo and Juliet make out in an elevator after staring at each other through an aquarium (also a really hot water-based moment), but Romeo has to make a quick exit once word spreads that he’s a Montague. He comes back to the Capulet mansion later to find Juliet pining for him by the family pool, at which point he finally decides to “speak at this” and startles her so badly that she drags him into the water by accident (or on purpose—she had to know that chain mail would cling to his biceps just so).
For a tweenage girl who’d never even come close to kissing a boy, this moment was the height of eroticism. Aside from the fact that he’s soaking wet and glistening, Leonardo DiCaprio is literally dressed as a knight. There are a ton of close-ups on his face, the better to give you a good view of his beautiful eyes, which a fan magazine I owned around that time described as being “the color of the ocean.” And right before they fall in, Juliet makes a coy reference to his penis, aka “any other part belonging to a man,” putting sex front and center from the get-go. But most importantly, Romeo takes his time before kissing Juliet, and when he finally does, their lips take so long to touch that your body will know how important foreplay is even if your mind has never heard the word. Then there are the neck kisses, which until then I didn’t even know were a thing you could or would want to do with a guy. I distinctly remember gatherings where we rewound the VHS to watch this scene again immediately after it finished, then came back to it once more after letting the movie play till the end.
By the time I was in ninth grade, the scene was so deeply entrenched in my consciousness that I would daydream about falling into pools with my crush, and play the Des’ree song “Kissing You” before bed for extra dream inspiration. When my ninth-grade English class—including said crush, of course—leostudied the play again, with small groups gathering to read scenes aloud, I nearly passed out from anxiety about whether or not I would end up as Juliet to the crush’s Romeo. Unfortunately my teacher assigned me the role of the nurse, but when the class traveled to the school auditorium to do some reading on a real stage, the crush sat next to me and stroked my back flirtatiously when no one else was looking. I thought I would burst into flames. Who cares if I had to be the nurse? This dude touched me!
The pool scene doesn’t really do it for me anymore, either because I’ve gotten older and seen porn or because I have a hard time finding the romance in a movie that ends with a double suicide, but I’ll always remember it as the thing that piqued my interest in kissing. May it fool teens into thinking pools are good places to make out for years to come.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.