Baz Luhrmann’s glittering carnival of a musical turned 15 this month. Has it stood the test of time? Here’s Fiona Longmuir with thoughts. And possibly sequins.
Dear Readers, you know I’d hate to lie to you. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m gonna tell you right now, Moulin Rouge! is one of my all-time favourite films.
I don’t think my conclusion is going to come as much of a shock to any of you. But this did give me a very good excuse to rewatch the movie and rave about it for a bit, so bear with me. It will probably contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO WATCH IT, IT’S AMAZING. And then come back and we can talk. Although the biggest spoiler is given away by Ewan McGregor at the very start.
The first time I watched Moulin Rouge!, I switched it off after 10 minutes. The opening is a complete assault on the senses, filled with sequins, timeline shifts and plays within plays within films. But, if you stick with it and just enjoy the madness, this section exists only to introduce you to the setting of the club and throw the main characters together. He was a boy and she was a girl; can I make it any more obvious? He was a writer and she was a courtesan with consumption. What more can I say?
The film follows the doomed romance between McGregor’s young writer, Christian, and Nicole Kidman’s courtesan, Satine, under the watchful eyes of her boss and the wealthy aristocrat she has been promised to. Jim Broadbent somehow manages to play the flamboyant club owner Harold Zidler with tremendous gravitas and Richard Roxburgh’s turn as the obsessive Duke of Monroth is one of my favourite movie villain performances of all time.
The Duke, who spends most of the film as a sort of comedy pantomime villain, becomes genuinely frightening as the film reaches its climax. Broadbent’s Zidler is slowly peeled back to reveal the man underneath, twisted by years of showbiz exploitation. I challenge you to find a more powerful musical number than his tortured rendition of The Show Must Go On in anything. Ever. Thinking about it has given me real-life goosebumps right now.
The entire soundtrack is made up of familiar songs, distorted and mixed together to tell stories you never would have dreamed they could tell. The Police’s Roxanne becomes an impassioned, poisonous tango, dealing with jealousy, suspicion and betrayal. I know. I KNOW.
But of course, the greatest beauty in the film is the love story. It’s almost impossible to watch this film and not be swept up in the romance between Satine and Christian. It is, by turns, tender and passionate, helping the two survive jealousy, fear and sheer bad luck. Every time I watch it, I pray for the end to be different.
Against all sense, I hope every time their love will be strong enough to defeat the tragedy that awaits them. And every time it isn’t, I sob my little heart out. But the sadness of the ending does nothing to tarnish the power of the story. It might be a story about death. It might be a story about jealousy. But, to steal a quote from the film itself, above all things, it is a story about love. And I will love it forever. RATED.
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Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.