Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham
Oscar Wins: Best Costume Design (Catherine Martin, Angus Strathie), Best Production Design (Catherine Martin, Brigitte Broch)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Film Editing (Jill Bilcock), Best Cinematography (Donald McAlpine), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Maurizio Silvi, Aldo Signoretti), Best Sound (Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Roger Savage, Guntis Sics)
SUMMARY: In 1900, Christian (Ewan McGregor) is a struggling writer living in Paris. Christian spends most of his time drinking, but one day he starts writing about events that happened to him a year earlier, just after he moved to Paris to join the Bohemian movement. Shortly after moving into his apartment, Christian learns that there are a group of performers living above him. They are led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and are attempting to write a musical show called “Spectacular Spectacular”. The troupe quickly takes to Christian, and when they learn that he is a writer they ask him to work on the show. They want to sell the show to Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the notorious Moulin Rouge. At the same time, Zidler and his star courtesan, Satine (Nicole Kidman), are attempting to secure the investment of the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) in order to turn the Moulin Rouge into a legitimate theater (and Satine into a real actress, her dream). Toulouse arranges for Christian to meet with Satine after a show one night, in order to pitch the show to her so that she can in turn take it to Zidler. On the same night, the Duke visits the Moulin Rouge, and Zidler instructs Satine to seduce him in order to secure his investment. However, there is a mixup in identifying the men, and Satine believes that Christian is the Duke. He tells her that he is only a writer, only to be interrupted by the real Duke. To save face (and perhaps sensing an opportunity) in front of the jealous Duke, the two claim that they were rehearsing for their new show, “Spectacular Spectacular.” With the help of the troupe and Zidler himself, the Christian and Satine propose a show in which an Indian courtesan is in love with a poor sitar player, but is being pursued by an evil maharajah. The Duke completely misses the implications, and agrees to finance the show (and the renovations to the Moulin Rouge) on the condition that only he be allowed to “see” Satine. However, Christian has fallen for Satine, and secretly returns to the Moulin Rouge to convince her that she should take a chance on him. A relationship quickly develops as work begins on the theater and the show. To avoid the Duke and keep their relationship secret, Christian and Satine make various excuses about working on scenes and lines. However, the Duke grows irritated that Satine is avoiding him. He threatens to withdraw his patronage unless his demands are met: one of these demands is that Satine have dinner with him the next night. Satine has already agreed to meet Christian at the same time, but makes neither appointment. She has contracted tuberculosis, and passes out before she is able to decide who to meet. Zidler covers for her with the Duke, but is told that Satine will not live much longer.
After learning of the Duke’s demands and suspicions, Satine tries to break things off with Christian. However, he adds a part to the show in which the sitar player writes a secret love song for the courtesan, and writes an actual song as well. The Duke continues to be somewhat oblivious to the relationship between the two, aided by Zidler’s clever lies. However, one day he is tipped off by another courtesan. The Duke realizes that the evil maharajah refers to him, while Christian is the sitar player and Satine is the courtesan. In the show, the courtesan ultimately chooses the sitar player. The Duke now demands that the ending be changed so that the courtesan chooses the maharajah, and that the secret love song be removed. In order to appease him, and keep the original ending, Satine agrees to sleep with the Duke. However, she sees an inconsolable Christian roaming the streets that night, and cannot go through with it. The Duke turns violent, but Satine escapes with the help of a dancer in the show. She runs to Christian, and the two decide to run away together. Meanwhile, the Duke informs Zidler that if Satine does not come back to him, he will have Christian killed. Zidler fearfully informs Satine, who refuses to give in until he tells her that she is dying of tuberculosis (the diagnosis had previously been kept from her). Satine must break things off with Christian in order to save him, and in order to truly turn him away, she has to convince him that she doesn’t really love him. She does this successfully, and Christian falls into a deep depression. On opening night, he decides to get revenge, and sneaks into the Moulin Rouge. He intends to pay her for their time together, as any other man would pay a courtesan. Just before Satine has to return to the stage, he confronts her and demands to know her true feelings. The curtain then opens on them, shocking both the audience and the other performers. Zidler, playing the maharajah, tells everybody that Christian is the disguised sitar player. Still playing out their real feelings, Christian throws the money at a crying Satine before walking off the stage. Toulouse, as the sitar, abruptly yells out, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” which prompts Satine to sing the secret love song. Christian pauses, then turns around and rejoins Satine on stage to finish the song. Both the incensed Duke and his bodyguard try to kill Christian, but are stopped by various performers. The show ends to thunderous applause, but just after the curtain drops Satine collapses in Christian’s arms. As she dies, she tells Christian that she loves him, and instructs him to write their story. Back in the present (a year later), Christian finishes writing the story.
MY TAKE: So I did not realize that this movie has some basis in fact: the Moulin Rouge is actually a real place, and actually looks like the theater in the movie (with the red windmill and all). If the name Toulouse-Lautrec sounds familiar, it’s because he was a real person. He actually was a little person, and became famous for his paintings. Zidler was also a real person. In the film, the Moulin Rouge closes about a year after Satine’s death, but in reality it’s still there (and functioning), though the original building did burn down in 1915. I love musicals, so for me this movie already had one thing going for it. However, this musical is unusual because it only features one original song (“Come What May”, which was actually written — but not used — for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie Romeo + Juliet, which is why it was not eligible for the Oscar for Best Song): the rest are adaptations of already-existing famous songs. This creates a really unique experience, because you recognize what the characters are singing. I knew almost all the songs, and found particular humor in Christian’s explanation of love, which includes “love is a many-splendored thing” and “love is all you need”, among other phrases. I’m pretty sure that the arrangement of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend/Material Girl” is the exact same one that was used in the TV show Glee. Impressively, Kidman and McGregor did their own singing. The film is really over-the-top visually, but it works with the setting of a cabaret. I think I would normally find it irritating, but in this case it fits perfectly. Of course I hate that Satine dies at the end, but in all fairness Christian points that out at the beginning of the film, before we ever see her. I also knew right away what coughing up blood (particularly in the late 1800s/early 1900s) meant, and that there wasn’t a cure for “consumption” at the time. Didn’t stop me from wishing, though. It’s a very different kind of movie, but between the music, dancing, comedy and love story, it’s just a fun movie.
RATING: Very enjoyable.