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Analysis of Moulin Rouge

2522 words (10 pages) Essay in Film Studies

08/02/20 Film Studies Reference this

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A Night at the Moulin Rouge

Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” is a classic story of about love and star-crossed lovers who cannot be together because of a love triangle and a nasty cough that is standing in the way. The film takes place in 1899 in a beat up, black and white animated depiction of Paris during “the summer of love,” as stated by main character Christian McGregor who is a poet and a writer. Christian came to Paris in hopes of starting his career as a writer, and this move was highly disapproved of by his strict father back in England. There he meets a group of Bohemians who are rehearsing a play that they plan to present to investors at the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge is a famous cabaret nightclub in Paris which is known to throw wildly lavish parties with spectacular and elaborate performances to entertain their guests. When there, Christian first lays eyes on Satine, who is the star of the show at the Moulin Rouge. She mistakes him for a wealthy duke that was supposed to have a meeting with her to invest in the club. Christian is blinded by her beauty and can barely keep it together when he is trying to purpose the group’s play to her. He falls so deeply in love with her but she does not know he is not the duke she was intended to meet with.

The Moulin Rouge’s owner, Harold Zidler, wants the real Duke to invest in the club in order to bring more life and attention to the place so he can turn it into a fancy theatre where people can see plays or musicals. But the only way the Duke will invest in the club is if Satine is his. All could have went well if Satine never met Christian though because now she began to develop feelings for him; classic. Things also could have went as planned if Duke was not a horrible and sort of gross person with anger issues. But because of this situation, Satine and Christian are forced to hide their love affair and Satine has to pretend to enjoy the presence of the Duke in order to get his investment. The catch to the whole love triangle is that Satine will not consummate the fake, on her part, relationship with the Duke until opening night of the play in which was proposed and created by Christian, the Bohemians, Satine and Harold. This play was created on the spot in Satine’s dressing room by the group in order to steer the Duke away from any suspicions of the shady group. But once again, another issue is standing in the way of the relationships and the play’s production: Satine is sick with Tuberculosis and is expected to die very soon.

There is never a point during Moulin Rouge where the story slows down. The screen is rapidly whipping and changing in the matter of seconds throughout the film. When this fastness and rapid picture is taken into consideration, the viewer is smacked with colors, lights, flashy wardrobes and eccentric backdrops. The cinematography depicts all the styles and techniques favored by Baz Luhrmann in his films. There are many scenes and shots in Moulin Rouge that have the eyes of the viewers darting back and forth across the screen. The scenes in this film mostly consist of close up and medium shots in order to bring attention to the exaggerated expressions on the characters’ faces. The usage of fast whip-pans are also highly prevalent throughout the film. It is used to move from character to character during songs and performance scenes. “The camera angles used represent the emotion state of characters in many scenes” (O’Flaherty 2002) There is a scene in which Satine plans to run away with Christian that shows how Baz Luhrmann used cinematography as a tool for symbolism. In the first shot Satine is packing her belongings and there is a bouquet of pink flowers in the shot that could represent love. Then we see an extreme close-up of Harold and he looks scary and devilish. Orange and red lighting is used to show his evil side. The screen then dissolves into a split-screen of Harold with a mirror image of him that is blurry. When he tells Satine that Christian will be killed if she does not go to opening night the lighting is orange and red again hinting at evildoings. Satine will not accept this fate. Then when Harold tells Satine that she is dying the shot turns to slow motion and fades to black. The shot is made to make the audience feel the pain of the situation and to feel like how Satine is feeling in the moment. Later the shots have a hue of blue that indicates Satine’s shock and sadness. In the background there are bird and bird-cages that symbolize that Satine is like a caged bird that cannot spread her wings and fly away. Then Harold is shot with in both blue and red when he tries to tell Satine that he is sorry for what is happening to her but he has to do what is best for him. The last shot shows Satine in blue again while she has tears streaming down her face.

When picturing the Moulin Rouge the viewer thinks about the overall image and feelings that surround the perception of Paris, with some Indian flare. Luhrmann thought the added Indian flare added a sense of romance to the scenes. The interpretation of the Moulin Rouge’s three-story, paper-maché elephant that contained an Arabian-themed gentlemen’s club in its belly was recreated in the film and was used as Satine’s room ( 2018) But when the scenes were not taking place at the Moulin Rouge, the city of Paris and its surroundings were seen as old, run down, filthy, black and white with overwhelming feelings of loneliness. Costumes set the mood and the atmosphere throughout the film. “From the riot of color of the cancan dancers’ skirts… to the outrageous gear worn by Toulouse-Lautrec.” (O’Flaherty 2002) The costumes were supposed to “reflect the sensationalism and shock of the Moulin Rouge along with being sexy and seductive to the contemporary eye.” ( 2018) Costumes create this visual excitement for the audience.

Love is a central theme of this film and plays a part in the mise en scene. When Christian and Satine were together the atmosphere was colorful and lively. When Satine was with the Duke the setting was dull, dark and cold. When scenes became dark and dull, Christian and Satine used the song “Come What May” to remind each other of the love they shared and how nothing will ever top it. Towards the end of the movie when the final performance of Spectacular! Spectacular! is taking stage Christian appears, heartbroken and ridden with anger, on the stage next to Satine portraying her love interest in the play. The stage is bright with diagetic lighting illuminating the stage. The actors on stage are dressed in their gold incrusted costumes with looks of confusion painted on their faces that have makeup packed onto them. The stage is made to look like the play is taking place in India with color pops of red, gold, yellow, white and pink. Everyone is standing still. The viewer starts to develop a sense of worry. Fear can be seen in the eyes of Satine, Christian and Harold. The audience in the film is silent with light hitting their faces to reveal looks of confusion. Satine and Christian are centered using a long shot of the entire stage. The camera shots go back and forth to see the reactions of the main characters who are expressing different looks. Satine is trying to beg Christian to leave her alone or else he will be killed but he does not want to listen. As he angrily exits the stage the camera shows him in the foreground and Satine in the background sobbing. That is when she starts singing “Come What May.” This serves as a reminder that Satine does love Christian. He quickly returns to the stage to join her for the final performance. But once the curtain closes the scene becomes dark and is no longer bright and The lighting is no longer bright and everyone is in the shadows. This is an indicator as to what happens next.

The Moulin Rouge is actually a real place in Paris, France. The film starts in black and white which pays homage to French films that took place in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the dance hall that made the can-can dance famous. By no means is Moulin Rouge supposed to be a historical film but does that mean it should not still be used as a learning source for the viewers based on the time period and setting? The most popular way to learn about history nowadays is through film and television. People look to era inspired content to find out information about certain time periods and historical events. Many people choose to turn to movies instead of books to learn about history. If a director chose to ignore the history when creating a film set in a certain time period then the consequences would not be good (Bernstein 1989.) Misinforming the audience is never a smart thing to do. Directors should not choose to ignore certain traits in history in order to tell their story differently.

A good thing about Moulin Rouge is that it does stick to the time period quite well, aside from using modern songs within its narration. The Moulin Rouge was an actual place that was done up with an electric façade that helped the city of Paris start to develop its own culture ( 2018.) Until the early 1900s, theatre was the most popular form of entertainment for large groups of people which helped make the Moulin Rouge the famous building it is. Baz Luhrmann pays homage to the time period and setting throughout Moulin Rouge. He used historically accurate costumes, props and backdrops to make the film seem like it was actually taking place in a dreamlike trance of Paris, France. In Steve Burgess’ article “Lights, Camera… Paris” he talks about how Moulin Rouge used “staged recreations of beloved cinematic clichés, and above it all a steady stream of songs that celebrate Paris.” (Burgess 2004) If Luhrmann ignored the time period completely and added modern costumes or technological props to the film then viewers would be confused and the story would not make any sense. Directors who choose to use inaccurate facts, settings and time periods are not doing any justice to the impressionable audience it may obtain. History is important in every film story and timeline.

Baz Luhrmann has a signature style when it comes to his filmmaking techniques. Some may say he is even one of the greatest auteur directors of our time. “In Auteur theory the film rather than just being that, a film, becomes instead a work of art, the film reflecting the directors personal creative vision, and their creative voice is distinct enough to still reflect within the medium even after the entire creative process is complete.” ( 2015) All elements that are typically used to create films are used in ways unlike most directors thus creating a signature style like the one Baz Luhrmann is known for. Luhrmann is known for films that incorporate songs into the narrative. According to Luhrmann, he used three of the same rules in his films to create his vision. His rules are that he uses a basic and recognizable story set in a creative world with an added device to keep the audiences’ attention ( 2015) He incorporates mythology into the storyline to help relate the tale to one of those in the past while incorporating songs to continue the message.

Along with that, Luhrmann is truly known for his fairy tale or storybook like worlds he creates with elaborate costumes and exaggerated acting. He really lets his imagination run rapid throughout his films which keeps them exciting and entertaining to most crowds. “With a tendency for theatricality, he himself states that he is heavily influenced by Italian Grand Opera and Bollywood film which is especially apparent in Moulin Rouge.” ( 2015) Some of his most notable and recognizable styles are his camera shots and angles. Moulin Rouge perfectly encompasses all of Baz Luhrmann’s signature styles and truly depicts his auteurism is the highest manner. His style gives the film more meaning and excitement than it could have had if someone else were to have directed it. It takes a certain director to really bring a film to life.

Moulin Rouge was an Oscar winning film created by well-known director Baz Luhrmann. It was used to finish off his “red curtain” trilogy that captured audiences around the world. Luhrmann pays attention to every slight detail in this film which does not go unnoticed or unappreciated by the audience. Every scene is captured in a way that stays true to the time period and keeps the audience captivated. It is a film that sends the message that love conquers no matter the outcome. Christian and Satine, a very unlikely pair, came to love each other for who they really were deep down inside which is told through the cinematography, mise en scene and historical accuracy of the film. Luhrmann is one of the greatest auteurs who will go down in film history for his heightened story like films filled with shots and scenes that are unlike others. Moulin Rouge was formed and created to bring the viewer to Luhrmann’s understanding of the story in a unique way.

Works Cited

  • “45 Magnificent Facts About The Moulin Rouge.” Factinate. N. p., 2018. Web. 20 Nov. 2018.
  • “Are Movies A Good Way To Learn History?.” The Conversation. N. p., 2017. Web. 21 Nov. 2018.
  • “Baz As An Auteur.” Director Study: Baz Luhrmann. 1 August, 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2018.
  • Bernstein, Richard. “Can Movies Teach History?.” N. p., 1989. Web. 21 Nov. 2018.
  • Burgess, Steve. “Lights, Camera … Paris.” Maclean’s, vol. 117, no. 34, Aug. 2004, p. 49. EBSCOhost,
  • “Moulin Rouge : Production Notes.” N. p., 2018. Web. 21 Nov. 2018.
  • O’Flaherty, Diane. “Moulin Rouge.” Australian Screen Education, no. 31, Summer 2002, p. 78. EBSCOhost,
  • “Tumblr.” N. p., 2018. Web. 21 Nov. 2018.
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