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Baz Luhrmann’s Best Picture nominee Moulin Rouge! begins with Christian – a depressed writer mourning the death of his beloved. He retells his coming to Paris in search of Bohemian ideals and lifestyle, along with love. In his apartment, he meets Toulouse-Lautrec and his acting group. Christian is shortly thereafter invited to write the new play of “Spectacular Spectacular”, which is their new play. Their plan is to go to the Moulin Rouge nightclub and get owner Harold Zidler to fund them. Christian, Toulouse and crew arrive at the club just in time to see the main dancer, Satine, perform. Toulouse aims to get Zidler to like Christian through Satine, so they try and arrange a meeting so that he can impress Satine with his poetry. Coincidentally, a duke is to meet with Satine to discuss turning the Moulin Rouge from a cancan club to an actual theater for acting. Satine knows of this duke, and mistakes Christian for the duke, taking all of his references to poetry as euphemisms for sex. She nearly passes out, but goes on with her meeting. As they meet in private, Christian reads to Satine and she still thinks there is an underlying sexual motive. There is a moment of simultaneous realization of the fact that Christian loves Satine as he breaks out into a rendition of “Your Song” by Elton John. He hides as the actual duke comes in and he is quickly turned away by Satine. Christian comes out but the duke makes a hasty return. Coming to the rescue, Toulouse and Zidler swoop in and convince the duke that they are discussing the play, successfully avoiding conflict and convincing the duke to get involved with Spectacular Spectacular.
Christian returns home, in love, and Satine returns to her chambers, not completely won over. Infatuated, Christian visits her rooftop and really wins her heart, as they agree to a secret relationship. Unfortunately, the duke also lusts for Satine, and makes her affection a part of his contract to fund the Moulin Rouge. While the two have their secret relationship, the duke and Christian make conflicting obligations. Satine does not attend either, as she passes out after coughing up blood. After Zidler salvages the duke’s frustrations with another lie, he finds out Satine is sick and dying. She awakens and goes to Christian as they are coming to a conclusion in the rehearsal of the play – bad news, she must sleep with the duke and knows Christian won’t be able to deal with the jealousy. Christian, as a parting note, puts a secret song in the play to remind them both of their love for each other. As the duke sees the ending of the play, he realizes that the play parallels Satine’s life and demands that Satine’s character chooses the duke’s resemblance to love. Christian bursts out and says that it cannot be, because she does not love the duke. The day comes and Satine goes to the duke in private, while a distressed and frustrated Christian can only sit by. As the moment comes, Satine refuses to have sex with him, and the duke is knocked out in his rage. Satine rushes to Christian and they plan to run away together. Satine goes to pack her things, but is approached by Zidler. He lets her know that she is dying, leading her to tell Christian that she chooses the duke to save him the news of her dying. She goes on to perform the play, and a heartbroken Christian attends to pay her for her “services”. Christian is nearly killed by the duke’s bodyguard, but Toulouse thwarts the bodyguard. Toulouse repeats what was said at the beginning of the film – “The greatest thing you’ll ever know is just to love, and be loved in return”. Satine lets Christian know she still loves him and they conclude the play in song. Not long after, she dies of her sickness, and Christian is devastated. It takes a year before he can retell their love story to the audience.
The cast of Moulin Rouge! was great all around. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman were perfect in the leading roles of Christian and Satine, really giving off the impression that they actually were their characters. You could feel Christian’s heartbreak as Ewan McGregor held a dying Satine in his arms. Kidman made Satine feel real – if a little over the top at the beginning, the audience really connected with Satine by the end of the film. The supporting cast was decent as well; John Leguizamo as Toulouse and Jim Broadbent as Zidler were the standouts, tying together the second unit by displaying each character’s charisma and enthusiasm.
Moulin Rouge! was a hard film to dislike. Ewan McGregor was a perfect fit as the lead as well as a general solidity in the cast, the plot was simple but well done, the musical numbers were impressive in both the concept and the execution from the cast, and the production value was absolutely fantastic. Ewan McGregor as Christian singing “Your Song” was enchanting, and Kidman’s mediocre other performances didn’t have an effect on how attached I got to her character. The ambitious scale of the choreography, setpieces, and costumes were incredibly impressive, effectively showcasing the song-and-dance of the time and area. The only things you could say were just decent were the majority of the supporting cast and the relatively simple plot – nobody besides Leguizamo and Broadbent really stood out, and the plot was just a simple love story. Still, however, Moulin Rouge! undeniably earned its Best Picture nomination for that year.
The theme of Moulin Rouge! is one omnipresent throughout all of film and literature – “Love overcomes all.” Luhrmann restates this theme over and over throughout the film, repeating the lines from “Nature Boy”. “The greatest thing you’ll ever know is just to love and be loved in return”. Satine also chooses to go to Christian over the duke time and time again, picking the symbol of her love over her symbol for duty. We see it culminate at the end, with love overcoming even death. Satine asks Christian to tell their story, so that their love is immortalized in writing and song. Not the most original concept to make a film around, but with as well done as Moulin Rouge! is, I don’t mind.
Moulin Rouge! definitely isn’t for everyone. While easily recommendable to a fan of musicals, a casual viewer isn’t so easy to point in the direction of the Rouge. The musical numbers and its choreography is flamboyant, almost overwhelmingly so – fans of the modern music and great performances will appreciate it, but it is easy to see how it may not be enjoyed by all audiences. This film was fairly given a PG-13 rating, with suggestive themes but nothing overly sexual, violent, or mature. This film tells an enchanting love story through music and song, garnering a nomination for Best Picture for good reason. McGregor and Kidman collaborate to create an excellent film for musical and movie fans everywhere.
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