Moulin Rouge! – 2001
This movie is pure sensory overload. The music was over–the-top. The visuals were crazy, colorful, and unique. The story was fast-paced. The narrative was intense, sometimes wildly comical, while at other times devastatingly tragic. The characters were all ridiculous stereotypes, but the opulence of the production was enough to distract from it. The special effects were bright sparkly. The director, Baz Luhrmann, really seemed to have a specific vision that he brought to life.
The movie begins in the year 1900, and we are immediately told that we are about to be given a tragedy. An obviously distraught man who looks to be caught between drunken tears and suicide, makes his way to his typewriter. He sits down and begins to write. He is Christian, played by Ewan McGregor. His, and consequently, the entire movie’s, catchphrase is shown being typed on the paper: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return, a line from the jazz number, Nature Boy, made famous by Nat King Cole. He begins to tell the story of his love, Satine, played by Nicole Kidman. Yes, a Christian has fallen in love with Satan… sorry, Satine.
Flashback to Christian’s arrival in Paris one year prior. He falls into the company of a troupe of actors, led by John Leguizamo, playing the part of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Among the group of actors is a narcoleptic Argentinian, played by Jacek Komen. Together, they concoct a scheme to get a financial backer by going to the Moulin Rouge and pitching their Bohemian play, Spectacular, Spectacular to Harry Zidler, played by Jim Broadbent. And to get to him, they decide to set up a meeting with Zidler’s star dancer and prostitute, Satine.
When they arrive at the famous night club, the dangerously exciting and dark underbelly of the city comes to life. Here is where Luhrmann’s over-the-top vision kicked into overdrive. The sets, the costumes, the dancers, lights, and the wild atmosphere is splashed onto the screen in quickly shown images, never letting you focus on any one thing before some other fantastic visual is shoved in your face.
And then there was the music, because the movie, after all, is a musical. But it had very little original music. Instead, it unapologetically used modern pop songs, and nothing seemed to be off limits. It was all mixed together, overlapped, and turned up-side-down. Everything from The Sound of Music by Rogers and Hammerstein to Rhythm of the Night by DeBarge, from Lady Marmalade by Labelle to Material Girl by Madonna, from Your Song by Elton John to The Show Must Go On by Queen, was used, often in ways you have never imagined. There is a love medley sung between Christian and Satine that winds its way through twelve love songs from various pop artists like the Beatles, Kiss, Phil Collins, U2, Wings, David Bowie, and Dolly Parton. So much music was used that it took Luhrmann almost two years to acquire the rights to them all.
Of course, the real investor for the actors turns out to be the very wealthy but evil Duke of Monroth, played by Richard Roxburgh. Since he has paid for the Moulin Rough to be converted from a dance hall into a theatre, he expects to get Satine as well. However, Christian’s magical voice makes Satine fall in love with him, and the two begin a passionate affair. But in the end, none of it matters. Satine has tuberculosis. There is tension when the moronic Duke continues to insist on Satine’s compliance and he threatens to have Christian murdered when she resists. In order to save Christian’s life, she makes him believe she doesn’t love him. The grand and opulent play, which, of course, mirrors the situation surrounding it, is performed. The distraught Christian denounces Satine as a whore and turns to go. But Satine’s love is too strong. She calls him back just in time to die in his arms. Christian’s open weeping is heartbreaking to watch.
But aside from the heavy-handed romance, there was, as I mentioned plenty of zany comedy. The Spectacular, Spectacular sequence in which the play is pitched to the Duke was fun, as was the over-the-top Like a Virgin sequence in which Zidler tries to convince the Duke of how much Satine really wants him. The comedy certainly left me smiling, just as the tragedy brought tears to my eyes. And there was a certain amount of risqué sexiness to everything. Roxanne, by the Police, was turned into a slow and sexually charged tango, in which the narcoleptic Argentinian tells Christian why he should have never loved with a prostitute in the first place.
Sure, the ending was a little predictable, but that made it no less enjoyable to watch. If you are a fan of musicals, this one was a uniquely wild ride from beginning to end. The casting was perfect. McGregor was wonderful as the innocent young man who fell head-over-heels in love with the experienced courtesan. Boradbent was wonderful, as was Leguizamo. And I should also make note of one of the other dancers at the Moulin Rouge, whose character is listed as Nini Legs in the Air, Caroline O’Connor. Sure, her character was annoying, but she was supposed to be, and the actress played it perfectly. Great job everyone!