I did not watch this until I was in college, because I was uneasy on the subject matter. The film stars Ewan McGregor (voice of Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, Down with Love, Miss Potter, Obi-Wan Kenobi) as Christian, Nicole Kidman (Australia) as Satine, and Jim Broadbent (Professor Slughorn, Professor Diggroy in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Archmaester Ebrose in Game of Thrones) as Harold Zidler. It’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, which is the reason for some of the odd visuals I believe. The story is set at the turn of the twentieth century in Paris, in the Moulin Rouge district. Christian is an English writer who has come to live the Bohemian lifestyle and write about truth, beauty, freedom, and above all, love. His neighbors, who literally crash into his room, are also Bohemians and are producing a play. They ask Christian to fill in since their lead is a narcoleptic Argentinean and Christian manages to help their production by suggesting “the hills are alive, with the sound of music.” (I was shocked this appeared when I first watched the movie; until I realized it was the whole premise of the movie; incorporating modern songs). The rest of the cast loves it and the current writer leaves. But, to put on their play, they need to convince the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harry Zidler; and to do that, they have arranged for Christian to privately meet the star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine.
What the Bohemians don’t know is that Zidler has arranged for a wealthy Duke to privately “meet” with Satine so he will invest and help turn the Moulin Rouge into a proper theatre, and Satine can become a proper actress. The dancers perform Lady Marmalade (which I enjoy, aside from the creepy older men; but that was the point of the Moulin Rouge) and a Can Can, then Satine descends for Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend (with a chorus from Material Girl). Zidler is telling Satine about the Duke, but Christian’s friend Toulouse gets mixed in and Satine believes that Christian is the Duke and takes him back to her room for a “private poetry reading.” Christian tries to recite his poetry, and Satine believes she should be getting riled up…it’s a bit of an awkward, but funny scene, well acted. Then Christian just belts out, “my gift is my song,” and continues with Elton’s John Your Song. Satine is impressed. Then the truth comes out that Christian is not the Duke; in fact, the Duke is waiting outside the door for Satine. So she must distract the Duke while hiding Christian and trying to coax him out; she starts singing Christian’s song. And claims it is from a new show, “Spectacular, Spectacular.” If the Duke will invest in the new show, Satine will sleep with him, but not until opening night.
The Duke leaves, and Satine faints (she’s already fainted once before). Christian attempts to awkwardly put her to bed and the Duke inconveniently walks in. Satine comes to in time to save Christian and with the help of his Bohemian friends and Zidler, they spitball the storyline of the play while singing Spectacular, Spectacular; a courtesan falls in love with a penniless sitar player, but is pursued by an evil maharajah (hmm, sounds like the storyline of the movie; the Duke is not the brightest man). They convince the Duke; “no words in the vernacular/ can describe this great event/ you’ll be dumb with wonderment,” everyone sells. A little later that night, Christian returns and discusses love with Satine; she is more practical, due to her profession. There is a wonderful medley of love songs, including All You Need is Love by the Beatles, Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong, and ends in a kiss.
Trouble begins to brew with the Duke; he wants Satine exclusive to him: “I don’t like other people touching my things!” And extra insurance for his investment; he will hold the deed to the Moulin Rouge. The play goes into production. The Duke attends rehearsal as a part of “artistic influence;” but Satine keeps stalling him, or making up excuses for Christian to be around. Satine is still sick at times and Zidler is told she is dying. And he has discovered her dalliance with Christian and tells her to break it off. She collapses again and Zidler has to cover with the Duke. Which leads to an awkward interlude of Like a Virgin.
Satine does talk about the arrangement with the Duke to Christian and he promises not to get jealous. He suggests they include another song in the show, symbolizing that they love each other; Come What May. But one of the other dancers is jealous and hints to the Duke about Satine and Christian. He insists they change the ending; the maharajah will win. Satine sides with the Duke to pacify him and the rest of the performers must wait while she seduces the Duke. Christian does not remain impartial and the Argentinean advises that one should not fall in love with a woman who sells herself; El Tango de Roxanne and the room is filled with the Argentinean tango (love this part). The Duke sees Christian approach and turns on Satine; he comes very close to forcing himself on her, but one of the large men from the show has snuck over and hits the Duke over the head before it goes too far. Satine seeks comfort with Christian and they decide to leave Paris.
The Duke informs Zidler that Satine must break it off with Christian and come to him after the first show; or he will kill Christian. Zidler warns Satine and when that is not enough, informs her that she is dying. If she loves Christian, she must break his heart, to save him. The Show Must Go On they all intone. Christian doesn’t believe Satine and tries to see her again, only to be thrown out in the rain. His friends attempt to comfort him, but once opening night begins, he sneaks back into the theatre. Narcolepsy hits the Argentinean again and Christian takes his costume, intent on paying Satine. They end up on stage and the audience believes it is part of the show. Christian throws the money and walks away. Satine begins Come What May, calling Christian back. The Duke is furious and mouths to his bodyguard to kill Christian. The rest of the cast figures it out and help knock the gun away. The audience still has no clue what is real and what is show and Toulouse shouts out the theme of the movie: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.” The show ends on a high note, the Duke leaves. As the curtain drops, Satine collapses again. She gets a few final words with Christian and dies. (The talented Ewan McGregor breaks all of our hearts with his sobs).
The film wraps back to the beginning, a depressed Christian in his room, typing out Satine’s story. With his story, their love will live forever. The end.
Some parts of the show are funny, like Spectacular, Spectacular. I find the Can Can fun; I remember the older girls performing once during a dance recital when I was young. Now every time I hear Your Song, I think of this film. Come What May is heartwarming and I still cry at the end every time. This show does not end happily, like typical musicals, thus not really a favorite of mine. There are awkward moments, as already stated, the Like a Virgin. Some people probably like it or find it funny…I’m not one of them. I did like that they used more modern music and wove it in to the story; it attracted a modern audience. The leads were excellent and I was shocked at Ewan’s singing voice; since I knew him first from Star Wars.
Up Next: Another Ewan McGregor film, Down with Love