Moulin Rouge (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

A Love Letter

(Best of 2001)

Dear Baz Luhrmann,

I’ve been sitting here staring at the computer screen for an hour, trying to find a toehold into this extraordinary film of yours, Moulin Rouge, but it has thoroughly discombobulated me in the same way that catching the eye of an attractive stranger across a crowded room and feeling the arc of an electric spark between you does. I have to keep admonishing myself: “Okay. Stop. Concentrate. Write this damn review already.” And then I start to drift into a reverie again.

It’s almost exactly like being in love. I’m in love with Moulin Rouge.
I’m hoping that listening to the soundtrack — which I ran out and bought immediately after the screening — will help. It isn’t. I keep getting distracted by Ewan McGregor’s surprisingly appealing light tenor crooning Elton John’s “Your Song,” and remembering how this simple declaration of devotion touches Nicole Kidman, and it sends chills down my spine. I keep getting led astray by Kidman singing, in her lovely voice, that clever segue from “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to “Material Girl,” and remembering how the sadness in her eyes belies what she’s saying to all the rich, besotted men around her.

Such a simple, old-fashioned story you’re telling: McGregor’s impoverished writer, Christian, falls in love with Kidman’s high-class courtesan, Satine, and she with him, even though she belongs to Richard Roxburgh’s possessive and jealous Duke of Monroth. But my god, the way you tell it! The lushness of this film left me tingling — and it’s lush in every way imaginable: emotionally, visually, musically. The wanton seductiveness of the Club Moulin Rouge, throbbing with electric music and the sexual energy given off by dancing bodies… “Wow,” the critic swoons, fanning herself. The contemporary pop music — Nirvana and the Beatles and David Bowie and all the other modern music you’ve appropriated and woven into this music-video fantasia — might be anachronistic, but how it pulses with the sin and decadence of turn-of-the-century Montmartre! Moulin Rouge is like an emotionally erotic, live-action Disney toon for grownups. It’s a modern opera. It’s the best damn music video ever made.

You’ve created a cinematic orgasm here, one that I couldn’t think you could keep ratcheting up… and then up goes the curtain, finally, on Spectacular Spectacular, the stage show Christian and his Bohemian friends create for Satine and the Moulin Rouge, and it’s simply dazzling. That word is too overused, because it doesn’t even come near to describing the way the vitality and verve of this film stunned and delighted me.

Oh, and how the emotional rawness of the film left me dazed. McGregor and Kidman are simply alive together — I can’t recall a recent film in which the romantic leads had such an intoxicating chemistry, one that lays their characters’ hearts bare, almost uncomfortably so in spots. I got so swept up in their palpable desire for each other that I couldn’t help but fall in love with both of them. Did McGregor and Kidman feed off this synergy? I wonder. They’ve both turned in their first truly great performances here, the ones we’ve always suspected they were capable of. Stardom anew awaits both of them, I imagine.

So thank you, thank you, thank you, Baz, for this film, for reminding us how a movie should transport us, for renewing my faith in film just when it was ebbing. I can’t wait to see Moulin Rouge again. I suspect I’ll be returning to it over and over this summer.


share and enjoy