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Film: Moulin Rouge!

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Moulin Rouge! is a 2001 musical film, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. The story is told through flashbacks from the point of view of Christian James (McGregor), a young Englishman writing the story of his doomed affair with the star of the eponymous Parisian nightclub.

Flashback to 1899 where Christian, an earnest young poet, has left his Victorian London home and his overbearing father in order to live an intellectual life amongst the Bohemian revolutionaries of Paris's bawdy, colorful Montmartre district. Soon after his arrival, an unconscious Argentinean falls through his roof, quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun...or, as he introduces himself, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Montfa, painter, actor, and Bohemian revolutionary extraordinaire. He, along with the Argentinean (narcoleptic, as it turns out) and the rest of their theater troupe are in the flat above, rehearsing their musical spectacle which will, of course, revolutionize the artistic world as they know it—provided, of course, that they receive the patronage of Harold Zidler, owner of the Moulin Rouge, the hottest nightclub-slash-brothel in Paris. The Moulin is soon to be converted into a theater in order to launch a new career for Zidler's "Sparkling Diamond", Satine (Kidman), the club's highest-paid courtesan and star attraction. Zidler, in turn, is relying on the patronage of the odious Duke (Richard Roxburgh) whose only condition in signing away the fortune it will take to convert the Moulin into a theater is that Satine become his mistress. The Duke gets his courtesan, Zidler gets his theater, the Bohemians get their play, and Satine gets the respectable career she's always dreamed of. It's a perfect set-up, which is why it will all go horribly, inevitably wrong.

Christian wins over the Bohemians and—after their original librettist storms out in a jealous rage—is put in charge of writing their show, Spectacular Spectacular!. To celebrate, they take him out to the Moulin Rouge, on, as it happens, the same night of the Duke's introduction to (and first scheduled rendezvous) with Satine. There is an interesting misunderstanding, but Christian's fundamental innocence and the power of his (well, Elton John's) poetry win her over, leaving her as starry-eyed with him as he is with her—until, of course, it is revealed that he isn't actually the Duke. As the months pass—as the Moulin becomes a theater and the show comes together—it becomes increasingly evident that their mutual attraction is too strong to ignore. However, the Duke is far less buffoonish than he appears, and if he is crossed, in love or otherwise, there's no telling what lengths he'll go to to keep the new lovers apart...

The film is a wild mishmash of genres, kinetic editing and atmosphere, often compared to a Music Video for its use of Jitter Cam. It is also composed almost exclusively of Cover Versions of songs, though most of them have been rewritten into new styles. Madonna's "Like A Virgin" becomes a Busby Berkeley Number, for instance, and the film contains only one song which the audience has never heard before (which, in fact, was originally intended for Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet). It is also one of the most sustained examples of Mood Whiplash in recent history: the bleak Framing Device of Christian at his typewriter switches quickly into a vibrant, almost cartoonish comedy before the inevitable spiral towards the Bittersweet / Downer Ending. Finally, it was the first musical to gain any sort of widespread popularity for a couple decades, and has helped launch the recent revival of the genre.

Another film, a Best Picture-nominated biopic of the same name (without the exclamation point), was made in 1952, directed by John Huston and starring José Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor. It's much less acid sequence and more Tragic Hero, showing the life and work of Toulouse-Lautrec in fin de siècle Paris, and the love he tries to find.

The 2001 film provides examples of:

  • Break His Heart to Save Him: The Trope Namer—in order to keep the Duke from having Christian killed, Zidler urges Satine to pretend she does not love him and never did, so he will leave the Moulin Rouge. It fails to make him leave, but breaks his heart only too well.
  • Concert Climax: "Come What May (reprise)"; the song was intended to be this for the Show Within a Show (before the Duke nixed it) but when Christian and Satine reconcile onstage and everyone else (led by the Bohemians) stand up for their ending, the song becomes the climax for the movie as a whole.
  • Concert Kiss: Christian and Satine's kiss at the climax of Spectacular, Spectacular.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The Duke.
    Duke: Satine will be mine. It's not that I'm a jealous man! I JUST DON'T—LIKE—OTHER PEOPLE TOUCHING MY THINGS!!
    (beat)
    Zidler: (Totally freaked out) I... understand... completely... Duke.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The Duke. Bonus points for being known only as "The Duke".
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Satine dies in Christian's arms.
  • Downer Ending: Since the movie opens with the main character sorrowfully saying "The woman I love...d is dead", it's not hard to guess where this will go. Paying close attention in the opening reveals it's even worse—the Moulin Rouge got shut down after events of the main story.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Christian walks out before the finale of El Tango de Roxanne, depressed at the thought of Satine sleeping with the Duke. He doesn't realize that the Argentinian is not playing Christian, but the Duke, and that Satine's death is inevitable.
  • Excited Show Title!: The title of the movie officially has an exclamation mark in it.
  • Fauxdian Slip:
    Nini Legs-In-The-Air: "This ending's silly. Why would the courtesan go for the penniless writer? Whoops! I mean sitar player."
    • Immediately followed by a true Freudian Slip:
      The Duke: Why shouldn't the courtesan go for the maharajah?
      Christian: Because she doesn't love you! [dead silence while everyone stares] Him... him... she doesn't love...she doesn't love him...
  • Foregone Conclusion: The opening narration reveals that Satine dies by the end of the story. Much of the tragedy and drama comes from the fact that Christian and the Duke, her rival love interests, have no reason to suspect this is coming.
  • Foreshadowing: Every OTHER frame is loaded with it.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: A few outfits, such as the skirt in the "Pink Diamonds" dress.
  • Framing Device: The story starts with Christian at his typewriter, finally carrying out Satine's last request — that he immortalize their story in writing — and the movie is an extended Flashback.
  • Gilded Cage: The Moulin, for Satine, the other "Diamond Dogs," and probably Zidler too.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The Duke. And he's really green-eyed.
    [crushing his hat in his hands] "It's not that I'm a jealous man. I JUST DON'T LIKE OTHER PEOPLE TOUCHING MY THINGS!!!!"
  • Grumpy Old Man: Christian's father.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: The "Like a Virgin" scene, where the Duke and Zidler constantly vie to see who can be the loudest/most over-the-top/silliest.
  • Harmless Villain: Subverted. At first the Duke seems like an ineffectual nitwit, but we soon learn otherwise.
  • The Hero Dies: Satine herself at the end.
  • He Who Must Not Be Heard: Warner, the Duke's bodyguard. His gun is more articulate than he is.
  • Hidden Depths: Satine seems to be a shallow material diva in the beginning, but falling in love with Christian shows there is more to her.
  • High-Class Call Girl: All the girls at the Moulin Rouge, but especially Satine.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Toulouse-Lautrec is a major character, but composer Erik Satie also features as one of the Bohos and composes the music for "Spectacular! Spectacular!"
  • Holy Shit Quotient: invokedWord of God states that the idea of the movie is to rocket the HSQ to infinity.
  • How We Got Here: See the Framing Device explanation.
  • Ill Girl: Satine, thanks to her tuberculosis.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: "I am cold... hold me Christian..."
  • Innocent Innuendo + Unusual Euphemism:
    While they are dancing—Toulouse has promised Christian a "private" meeting with Satine, in order to show her the script, while Satine believes that he is the Duke
    Christian: Toulouse said we could—do it in private!
    Satine: Did he?
    Christian: (flustered) Yes, you know...a private...poetry reading.
    Satine: Ohhhh, poetry. (coquettishly) Ooh, I love a little poetry after supper.
    It is an innuendo that continues (one-sidedly) into the rendezvous itself.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Satine, again thanks to her tuberculosis.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The film is book-ended by Christian writing a book about his and Satine's story.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: The movie invokes this by cutting between the typewriter and the scene.
    I had come to write about [...] love. There was only one problem: I had never been in love! Luckily, right at that moment an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof. He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.
  • Karma Houdini: Nini suffers no consequences for giving away Satine and Christian's affair. Though she's apparently out of job with everyone else by the time Christian starts writing his book.
  • Lady in Red: Satine's red dress, featured on the film posters (see the page image) and worn during the 'One Day I'll Fly Away'/'Elephant Love Medley' scene where she kisses Christian for the first time. The red is meant to draw the veiwer's attention to make it clear how she is drawing the protagonist's attention (and everyone else's).
  • Large Ham: The movie is (also) an endless ham parade, but Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh take the whole cake. They even fight over it during the "Like A Virgin" number.
  • Leitmotif: Many. Satine's is "One Day I'll Fly Away", Christian's is "Nature Boy" (and "Your Song"). Love's theme is, naturally, "Come What May". And so on.
    • "Come What May" is also the theme of forgiveness and faith in love, not just love itself. It's mentioned by the characters themselves and that's why she sings it at the climax of the film, in order to beg for his forgiveness.
    • It could be argued that Satine and Christian have two leitmotifs or possibly even more than that. "Sparkling Diamonds" is the song that represents Satine's life as a courtesan and "Your Song" represents Christian's one-sided love. When it is sung in a duet in "Elephant Love Medley", it symbolizes Satine returning his love.
    • "El Tango de Roxanne" is this for practically every major dramatic scene in the movie, whether you realize it or not. Next time you watch it, see if you can notice a faint tango rhythm underscoring some of the darker scenes.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The Duke and Christian, and Satine for a while, are not told that she is dying of consumption.
  • Loving a Shadow: The Duke is convinced that Satine loves him. In early dialogue with Christian, she remarks that making "men believe what they want to believe" is a courtesan's job.
  • Magic Music: "Your Song" made Satine fall in love with Christian.
    • Also makes The Duke fall in love with Satine.
  • The Man in the Moon: Appears during the 'Your Song' sequence and sings with the voice of Placido Domingo.
  • Mating Dance: Done beautifully with El Tango de Roxanne.
  • Meaningful Name: My bodyguard name is Warner. You've been warned!
  • Mood Lighting + Deliberately Monochrome: The beginning of the movie is in black and white. When the comedy starts, the colors are brilliant and the lighting is bright. When the drama begins, the main colors are black and white (to spoken and daylight scenes) and red and blue (for the musical and nighttime bits). After the "Hindi Sad Diamonds" it comes again brightly colored until the end of "Come What May (finale)" when goes again all black, white, red and blue. Finally, it ends, with normal daylight colors.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie starts out Crapsack World, goes straight into Lightheartedly Cartoonish once the flashbacks start, and thereafter is a slow decline into its Downer Ending finale.
    • The song rearrangements are always whimsical or loving... right up to El Tango de Roxanne, which begins with laughs before developing overtones of real violence (Nini appears to be in pain when the Argentinian grabs her), and ends with the Argentinian miming slitting her throat.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Ewan McGregor is in this, after all.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Nicole Kidman looks damn good in this one.
  • No Name Given: The Duke is only known only as...well, the Duke. We can see for a couple of frames (when Zidler is signing the deed to the Moulin Rouge) that he is officially Duke of Monroth and should be addressed as Your grace or Monseigneur.
    • No names are ever given for the characters in the troupe's play; they are simply the Courtesan, the Penniless Sitar Player, and the Maharajah.
    • invokedWord of God says his name on set was unofficially Count Von Groovy.
    • This also applies to many of the side characters—the Narcoleptic Argentinean and the Doctor (no, not that one) being prominent examples.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Except for Toulouse, none of the characters have a French accent. They all seem to speak the Queen's French.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Satine's entire wardrobe operates on this trope.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Christian and Satine are talking in the Elephant. He's trying to read her his poetry, while she thinks he's talking about sex.
    Satine: A little supper? Maybe some champagne?
    Christian: I'd rather just, um.... get it over and done with.
    Satine: Oh! Very well. Then why don't you... [lies on the bed] come down here. Let's get it over and done with.
    Christian: Actually, I'd prefer to do it standing.
    Satine: [standing quickly] Oh!
    Christian: You don't have to stand, I mean... It's sometimes... it's quite long. And I'd like you to be comfortable. It's quite modern what I do and it may feel a little strange at first, bu.. but I think if you're open, then... then you might enjoy it.
    Satine: [rattled but still professional] I'm sure I will.
  • Only in It for the Money: One of the two major themes on sex and romance in the film, exemplified by "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." As "creatures of the underworld" both Satine and Zidler are aware that love is a luxury they can't afford.
  • Parental Substitute: Zidler to Satine.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Most of Satine's "show" costumes, such as the 'Pink Diamonds' dress with the skirt made out of feathers.
  • Rape as Drama: The Duke attempts to force himself on Satine when she refuses to go through with the seduction at the Gothic Tower.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • El Tango De Roxanne, based on The Police's "Roxanne" with music from Mariano Mores' "Tanguera".
    • Madonna's "Like a Virgin" done as a Gilbert and Sullivan number, complete with Busby Berkeley choreography.
    • Queen's "The Show Must Go On", the opera version!
    • Hell, the movie rearranges ITS OWN SONG, "Come What May," from the soft, romantic love song to the more operatic, melodramatic clip of it the characters in Spectacular Spectacular sing.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!:
    • Moulin Rouge is the Disney Acid Sequence remix of La Traviata, which itself is La Dame aux Camellias AS AN OPERA!
    • Moulin Rouge also has elements of La Bohème (Scènes de la vie de bohème AS AN OPERA!) and the Orpheus myth.
    • Not to exclude at all the fact that Spectacular Spectacular, and therefore the plot of the film itself, is obviously taken from an ancient Sanskrit play called The Little Clay Cart.
  • Reprise Medley: A rather epic example: "Come What May", after Toulouse reveals the truth about Christian's life being in danger, morphs into a recapitulation and dueling medley of most of the movie's main themes, with "The Show Must Go On", "Your Song", "I'll Fly Away", "Children of the Revolution", and even a bit of "The Pitch" (the part about the "sitar player's secret song") all showing up.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: The Duke vs. Christian.
  • Scenery Porn: It didn't win the Academy Awards for Art Direction for nothing! Luhrmann even said that when the Elephant Room set had to be dismantled after filming wrapped, it was really heartbreaking.
  • Secretly Dying: Oh, Satine...
  • Shout-Out: One of the Bohemian's costumes is a long brown coat, a ridiculously long, multi-coloured striped scarf and a floppy hat. Sound familiar?
  • Showgirl Skirt: The "Pink Diamonds" dress has a skirt of feathers that just wraps halfway around the waist.
  • The Show Must Go On: Despite love triangles, narcolepsy, assassins and consumption. Not to mention a cover of the Queen song.
  • Show Within a Show: "Spectacular Spectacular!"
    • If you follow the opening of the movie, it's really a movie depicting a stage performance of a movie about a man singing about a man writing the story of his involvement in a musical about a man whose involvement in a musical mirrors the writer's.
  • Sissy Villain: The Duke. Played straight until El Tango de Roxanne. Then we get the green-eyed version.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Starts off very idealistically, then slowly slides toward cynicism. It reaches Crapsack World levels when you realize their reconciliation DESTROYS the lives of EVERYONE we meet in the film (we know from the opening/ending that the Duke closes the Moulin Rouge).
    • Although, as someone pointed out, if you think about it, then you realize that while the characters' lives are ruined, the ideals that they constantly fought to promote throughout the movie and through the play (freedom, love, etc.) all live on and survive solely thanks to said reconciliation
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: The film could be considered the perfect representation of this scale because it begins Serious, goes Silly for a long time and then, the second act smashes onto Seriousness.
  • Slut Shaming: The rather infamous "I have paid my whore!" scene from the end of the film, complete with throwing money on the stage by her fallen body in full view of the in-story audience.
  • Snow Means Death: It's snowing when Satine dies.
  • Standard Snippet: The Cancan Song (or technically, "Galop Infernal" from "Orpheus in the Underworld") is parodied.
  • Starving Artist: All the Bohemians.
  • Stepford Smiler: Satine in "The Show Must Go On".
  • Stocking Filler: Satine wears garters for the "poetry reading"
  • Suddenly Shouting: The Argentinian is prone to this, but Christian also does it once.
  • Tenor Boy: Christian. His highest note is in the Finale ("My gift is my song") and it is a truly ludicrous full-voice top C. If Ewan McGregor produced it without electronic assistance, that puts him on a level with people like Luciano Pavarotti and Freddie Mercury.
  • Thematic Series: This movie forms The Red Curtain Trilogy along with Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. All films were directed by Lurhmann.
  • Triang Relations: Number 4. "A" is The Duke, "B" is Satine and "C" is Christian.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Deconstructed. Being a working girl at the Moulin Rouge looks like a fun and glamorous life — except that the girls have very little power and control over their own destinies.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The Duke—at least until he lets his mask slip. Shown off in hilarious fashion during Christian and Satine's duet love song "Come What May", when at the picnic he's flitting around in the background chasing a frog.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Satine has a classic case.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Christian.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: As monstrous as the Duke is, the betrayal he feels is very real.
    You made me believe that you loved me.
  • Writers Suck: Christian comes across as a naive, hopeless romantic stumbling through a situation way over his head.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Again Satine, thanks to the tuberculosis. Noticing a pattern here?

The 1952 film contains examples of:

  • Book Ends: Toulouse-Lautrec falls down a staircase as a young man, crippling him; in the end, he falls down a staircase in an absinthe-induced panic attack, and dies.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Henri had a very good chance of marrying his childhood sweetheart until the accident which crippled him, at which point she couldn't stand the sight of him, which is sad, because he just looked like this.
    • According to his Wikipedia article he also may have suffered from overgrown genitals. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how overgrown they were.
  • Dark Reprise: Somewhat different, in that the song Jane Avril sings is lighter than her first one, but is less emotionally resonant and more hollow. Even more appropriately, at the end, as Toulouse-Lautrec dies misunderstood, the dancers from his happy days at the Moulin reappear before him one last time to say goodbye—though they imply they'll meet again in heaven.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Henri, when he's not belligerently angry or full of Wangst.
    Jane Avril: Oh Henri, why couldn't you be tall and handsome?
  • Downer Ending: Toulouse-Lautrec dies, while his parents and his contemporaries don't understand his art, or anything he's ever done while alive, and he just misses—by HOURS—the love of his life, now gone forever. Sadly, this is Truth in Television, as it really did end this way for him.
  • Gay Paree: Averted, in that the presented Paris is historically accurate, with the very real danger of being mugged, prostitutes being picked up by the police, and streets that stink to high heaven from the products manufactured there.
  • Good Costume Switch: Not 'good', per se, but when Jane Avril goes from singing in the Moulin to performing on stage, she wears a far more respectable outfit, much to the disappointment of those who want to remember her as the queen of the tease.
  • Incest Is Relative: Henri's father laments that it's his fault Henri's system is so frail, as his wife is his first cousin in order to keep the family line pure.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Interrupted by Toulouse-Lautrec himself, as he decides to devote himself to art, and in an uplifting scene, he shuts off the gas and throws open the window, letting the morning light stream in.
  • I Resemble That Remark: "I do not have a nose like that! I submit it for anyone: do I have a nose like that?" (He does.)
  • Ironic Echo: "There's the most divine creature waiting for me..."
  • I Was Quite a Looker: A very depressing scene in which Toulouse-Lautrec meets La Goulue, now drunken and on the streets.
  • Montages: Specifically, a Time Passes Montage, Photo Montage and Hard Work Montage rolled into one, with Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings, and a Drunken Montage once Toulouse-Lautrec goes on absinthe.
  • Rebel Prince: Henri refuses to take a title like his father, believing that they are out of style.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Aicha, the Algerian, for the one or two scenes she's in; when kicked in the behind, she kicks right back, harder, and tells La Goulue "I hope you split your breeches, kid!"
  • Snicket Warning Label: It's possible to get a Happy Ending if you miss/ignore the very end... and beginning.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "It's April Again", sung by Jane Avril (the unforgettable Zsa Zsa Gabor).
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks: In-universe, with regards to the Moulin.
    Zidler: I know I'm making millions, but I liked the Moulin as she was: a little strumpet who thought only of tonight. Now she's grown up and knows better. She has money in her stocking, wears corsets, and never drinks a drop too much. Worst of all, she never sees her old friends anymore...she has gone into society.
  • Tragic Hero: Toulouse-Lautrec, whose unwillingness to trust even those who try to help him brings about his downfall.
  • True Art Is Angsty: In-universe; how people react to Toulouse-Lautrec's art, a bit of Truth in Television.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: The Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec practically defines this trope, declaring for most of the movie what he thinks about Henri's art: "Work? A pretext to hang about cheap dance halls and drink all night. You call that pornographic trash work?" By the end, he changes his tune, but by then not only is Henri dying, he's interpreted as good because it's now famous—Henri just wanted it to be liked because it was beautiful.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Marie Charlet and Toulouse-Lautrec. They don't. Also Henri and Myriamme Hyam. They don't, either.

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alternative title(s): Moulin Rouge
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