Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (2001) is a cartoonish, psychedelic,
musical with a predictable storyline (young romantic writer falls in love
with cynical chanteuse, chanteuse must sleep with old evil disgusting rich
man to get funding for their new production, chanteuse falls in love with
writer too, producer forces her to send him away) but set to the disjointed,
neurotic tempo of the modern videoclip/ videogame/ techno civilization.
The script, dialogue and music seem to be improvised on the spot by a bunch
of amateurs with limited English skills,
Love triumphs at the end and the evil "duke" (who has ordered the murder of the
writer) is defeated, but she dies (of tubercolosis) in the writer's arms.
Luhrmann stuffs the film with a stunning number of ideas, costumes and scenes,
that compete with each other for time. The creative merry-go-round is
awe-inspiring but not necessarily accomplished.
Moulin Rouge looks more like ten unfinished masterpieces than one
The stereotyped storyline (a mockery of classic melodrama) does detract from
the overall "experimental" flavor.
In the decadent era of the "Moulin Rouge",
a young naif writer who has never been in love but is dying to write about love
has the vision of a crew of odd characters, led by a dwarf, who encourage him
to write a musical.
(Events take place as he types them on his typewriter in his room, so the
entire film might just be the story that he is writing in his room).
A wild colorful crowd is celebrating inside the "Moulin Rouge", led by its
spirited owner, Ziegfield (the soundtrack changes the "can-can" music with a
modern techno beat which makes it sound even more develish).
The writer walks for the first time into the club (with his bizarre friends)
and is bewitched by the star, a super-sexy singer (who actually sings
a mixture of disco music and Broadway show tunes, hardly the French music
of the year 1900).
While she is being lifted above the stage, she faints and falls.
But she recovers, and the writer visits her in her dressing room. He wants to offer
her a role in a new production, while she thinks that he wants to have sex.
He keeps talking about his project, while she is basically having an
orgasm by herself,
while the dwarf and his friends are peeking from the window.
Finally, she is moved by his romantic song (that sounds
a lot like Elton John). But when she realizes that he is just a poor writer,
and the rich, lusty Duke is knocking at the door, she is taken by fear
and forces the writer to hide (there follows a lengthy scene in which
the writer is simply trying to escape unseen).
The Duke eventually finds out that there is a man in her dressing room, and refuses
to believe the truth: that he is just a writer who wants to "sell" her his idea.
Helped by his bizarre friends, who suddenly appear in the room, and by
Ziegfield in person, anxious to save the friendship of the Duke, the writer
explains the plot of his exotic musical. They improvise the whole musical
in the room and the Duke likes it enough to fund it.
These remain the four drivers of the action: the writer wants to complete
his masterpiece; the singer hides her love for the writer from the rich patron;
the Duke is devoured by jealousy; Ziegfield wants to keep the Duke interested
in financing the musical.
The catch is that she is getting sicker and sicker, more or less unbeknownst
A very lengthy musical/choreographic scene shows the writer and the singer
falling in love. In the meantime, the Duke demands two conditions for funding
the musical: a deed on the "Moulin Rouge" and an exclusive contract with the
singer. Basically, the singer is his for life, and, if she breaches the
contract, he takes the entire night club. The whole cast goes to work
frantically at the experimental operetta. They are all excited, enthusiastic.
When he sees singer and writer kissing, Ziegfield reminds the singer that
the Duke is investing a lot of money into this show and basically owns both
her and the "Moulin Rouge". Ziegfield has a hard time containing the wrath
of the Duke, who guesses correctly that something is happening between the
two young people. So much so that the Duke himself seems to be part of
the musical (he is, obviously, part of the film). And the fact that the
writer keeps typing alone in his room seems to imply that he, the writer,
is writing also the actions of the Duke.
The same music that accompanies the love story of the two protagonists of
the musical also accompanies their picnics and night encounters.
When the Duke wants to change the ending (so that the beauty chooses the
rich disgusting maharaja), the writer opposes it.
The show, clearly, mirrors their real life: the Duke wants both the show
and real life to end with the beauty in the arms of the rich man.
She is torn between saving his musical by pleasing the Duke and
loving him, the writer.
The film reaches its zenith of pathos in the multitracked scene when she
is about to give herself to the Duke: as he touches her, the writer sings
and dances with the cast, and the flow of visual effects becomes a
nightmare of montage. When the Duke is about to rape her, a friend of the
writer hits him in the head and she runs to the writer, to pledge her love.
But the events of the night clearly enrage the Duke, who tells Ziegfield that,
lest she abides by the contract, the writer will die.
She had decided to elope with the writer, but Ziegfield warns her that the Duke
has decided to kill the writer. Now it is not only a musical at stake,
it is his life. She is still determined to run away, but Ziegfield tells her
another horrible truth: the doctors say that she is dying of her disease.
Ziegfield makes her realize that she would just kill the young man, to no
use. If she truly loves him, she has to use her talent of actress to
make him believe that she doesn't love him anymore, so that he will severe
their relationship and the Duke will spare his life.
She does that: she tells the writer that she has chosen the ending.
At the premiere, she is getting weaker and weaker, but goes on with the show
and with the lie. The writer confronts her and ends up on stage. Ziegfield
saves the show, but can't save the young man
the writer publicly repudiates the woman and hands her over to the Duke
then walks down the steps and faces the Duke before walking towards the exit,
defeated. Art and life are now one thing.
She has collapsed to the floor, now hardly able to breathe.
But then she breaks down and starts singing the truth: that she still loves him.
The writer stops and smiles, but the Duke's man aims to kill. The actors
avert the murder, and turn it into a comical scene. The writer walks back
onto the stage and sings the grand romantic finale with the woman.
But the Duke in person grabs the pistol, and is about to shoot, when Ziegfield
in person knocks him out. The musical ends well, but she dies in his arms.
(He types the last few words of the story of the film on his typewritter
in his room, and the film ends).