I thought it would be appropriate for my first post on my blog to be about Moulin Rouge. If you read my introduction (here), or my Top 12 Movies list (here), or perhaps even the title of my blog, you know that it is my all-time favorite movie.
One of the things that makes Moulin Rouge such a stupendous movie is the generous amount of creative liberty that Baz Luhrmann took in making it.
First, some facts:
Released in 2001, Moulin Rouge stars Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as Christian and Satine. It was written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, also known for Romeo + Juliet (1996, Leonardo DiCaprio) and, more recently, The Great Gatsby (another starring role for Leo).
The plot is quite intricate, but I’ll do my best to condense it into one paragraph. Satine is a dancer (a “courtesan”, basically a prostitute for the wealthy) at a night club in Paris, the Moulin Rouge (a real place!). Fun Fact: Moulin Rouge literally means “red windmill” in French, which is relevant because the building is actually a giant red windmill. To the right is a picture of the actual Moulin Rouge. Christian is a penniless writer recruited by a group of Bohemians to write a play for the Moulin Rouge. He is mistaken by Satine to be The Duke, the investor that they need to fund their performance, and she falls in love with him. The movie is then centered around Satine and Christian hiding their love from The Duke, who is obsessed with Satine. What could possibly go wrong?
What up with the weird music?
Oh, I forgot to mention, Moulin Rouge is a musical. WAIT DON’T STOP READING YET. It’s not your classic “break into song and tap dance in the street” kind of musical. This is one of those rare musicals in which the characters are actually singing when they start singing. Weird, yes. But, it makes for one heck of a unique movie, because that’s not even the coolest part. The songs that they’re singing are all songs that you know.
There are two sides to this. On the one hand, it’s kind of genius. I mean, can you take ten different classic love songs and make them into one duet? I’m a musician and I’m pretty sure I can’t. It’s really cool to listen to the Elephant Love Medley (the strange name makes a lot more sense when you realize that the song takes place in Satine’s “building”, which is in the shape of a giant elephant), and recognize every single lyric.
So what’s the opposition? Well, SOME people believe that this was a lazy way to create a soundtrack. And when I say some people, I mean not me. I love it. I’m just trying to present a well-rounded argument. Because, while they didn’t have to really write their own music, they still had to take ten songs and make them into one song that fit their scene and purpose.
My final say on the music is, a great big round of applause to Baz Luhrmann for creating a movie that gives old songs new meaning.
Whoa whoa whoa, slow that camera down.
One very common critique of Moulin Rouge is the speed at which the camera angle changes, and the ridiculous number of shots used in each scene.
This is, in my opinion, an extremely effective method of emphasizing important moments. There are very few shots that last as long as a full second in this movie, and it makes for the whole thing to kind of come across as a blur.
The whole thing is a blur, except for a select few moments that are either in slow motion, or just longer than the average shot. I can picture them in my head right now, because they stand out. It’s the same reason that bolding that phrase draws your attention to it: you’re reading all of these characters that are the same thickness, and then you come to two words that are different, and they catch your eye. One moment in particular that comes to mind for me is part of the climax of the movie, when the camera pauses on Satine’s neck, and it stays there long enough to catch your attention, and then the necklace she’s wearing falls off in slow motion. It’s the turning point of the scene (yay symbolism). Why do I remember it? It lasted longer than any other scene in the movie. So, does the editing of this movie give me a headache? Yeah, it kinda does. But it works.
Two plots in one…?
Alright, here’s where the genius in this movie really lies. Remember I said that they’re writing a play for the Moulin Rouge to perform? Christian writes a play that tell the tale of a courtesan who accidentally falls in love with a penniless sitar player when she was supposed to be seducing an evil maharajah to save her kingdom. So, she and the penniless writer must hide their love from the evil maharajah… oops. I mean sitar player.
It’s not hard to see what’s going on.
One of the key themes of this movie is acting. Satine’s entire life is based on her ability to “make men believe what they want to believe.” She must act as though she loves The Duke so that he will pay for their show, and so that she can be a real actress, and leave the Moulin Rouge. The effect of the two identical plots on top of one another is a powerful way to convey this theme.
There are countless times in the movie when, either Satine is referred to as “the Hindu courtesan”, in reference to the play, or Christian is referred to as a penniless sitar player, instead of the penniless writer. The Duke is many times called the evil maharajah, and the plot of the play reflects the actual dialogue that takes place between the characters. *SPOILER ALERT* My favorite example of how hard this hits, that “acting” only reflects true character, is in the very end of the movie. Well, kind of. As part of a really romantic rehearsal montage earlier in the movie, you see Christian and Satine joyously acting out a scene where the sitar player throws money at the courtesan’s feet and says “Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love!” in a terrible accent. They giggle their way through the scene and it’s hardly even worth remembering. That is, until Satine tells Christian that she has chosen The Duke (to save him from being killed by the jealous maharajah). He doesn’t believe that it’s true, so he shows up at the performance, and walks onto the stage with a handful of money, throwing it at her feet and thanking her for curing him.
Well, I hope that I have effectively educated you on my favorite movie in the entire world. At the very least, I hope that my opinions don’t appear to have come entirely out of my butt. Let me know what you think of my analysis and stay tuned for more!