The first image of “Moulin Rouge” suggests the theatrical. A curtain fills the entire frame and is drawn back to reveal the movie title.
The film begins in a desolate, gray Parisian setting, circa 1900. Quickly, it turns to a succession of flashbacks narrated by Christian (Ewan McGregor), the penniless writer, as he types his story in a hotel room.
The plot is that of a typical dramatic love story. Christian meets and quickly falls in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret, and highly desired courtesan. Satine does not know Christian”s true identity at first she believes he is a Duke, and falls in love with him when he composes and sings “Your Song” (originally written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin). Despite the truth of Christian”s financial situation, Satine finds she really does love him. The problem is that the future of the Moulin Rouge depends upon Satine seducing the real Duke (Richard Roxburgh) into supporting the club.
The Duke agrees to pay if the owner, Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), agrees to sign over both the deed to the Moulin Rouge and Satine. Satine and Christian must overcome these obstacles in order to openly love each other.
The plot may be simple, but its presentation is more complex. Baz Luhrmann”s always-interesting visualizations make the film stunning and lively. While Satine struts her stuff before the audience of the Moulin Rouge, the entire screen is filled with vibrant colors and lights. The club and the area that surrounds it have a Las Vegas feel. Glamour, beauty, exoticism, artificiality and over-the-top objects, such as the Moulin Rouge windmill and Satine”s bedroom within a giant elephant, are packed into a small city space.
The glitz is appropriate for the musical that writers Luhrmann and Craig Pearce have created. Instead of developing a highly complicated plot, the writers draw upon the idea of performance itself. A play-within-a-play effect is achieved, where much of the story is conveyed through performances of the actual characters. For instance, Christian writes a musical that closely mirrors his own life with Satine.
Reality and performance during the film are sometimes confused Satine”s life as a courtesan requires her to convince every man that she loves him, whether she is offstage or on. Her entire emotional life is an act until she meets Christian. Through the entire film, there is a sense of constant voyeurism, as the audience”s own sense of reality is confused with that of the Moulin Rouge.
The writers developed an original musical through bizarre means the setting is 1900, but the music is more contemporary. It ranges from David Bowie”s “Nature Boy” to Madonna”s “Material Girl,” mostly performed by the cast and reinterpreted in ways appropriate to the plot.
“Moulin Rouge” is successfully romantic, in the classic sense, while drawing on more contemporary elements. It is comedic and campy, with its shameless use of love clichs and camera shots under dancers” skirts. The character Harold Zidler even seems to draw some inspiration from Dr. Frank N. Furter of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Like any good cabaret show, the film is visually entertaining with its music and dance numbers. Unlike many musicals made into movies, “Moulin Rouge” is truly interesting in its construction, to the point where a simple plot becomes a positive thing.