Moulin Rouge!






Satine (the fancy prostitute) mistakes Christian (the penniless writer) for a wealthy duke. She thinks he’s there for sex. He thinks he’s there for a poetry reading. Satine is confused but doesn’t want to disappoint "the duke,” so she makes a show of reveling in his poetry.


Although the tango is my favorite scene from Moulin Rouge!, I think the device buried in this scene serves as a microcosm of the device that makes this movie work.

I feel awkward every time I watch this scene with someone who hasn’t seen the movie. It seems as if Satine is writhing on the ground for an eternity. It reaches a point where I actually feel embarrassed for Nicole Kidman! However, all of this colorful, kinetic madness is an intentional writing device that serves as a revving engine dying to take off. Right at the moment where someone might write off the movie as over-the-top, Christian belts out Elton John’s Your Song and the world falls silent. The break peddle is released, our anxiety lifts, and the movie soars.

One more second of Satine’s lunacy and the average viewer would lose interest. Any less, and Christian’s song would lose it’s spine-tingling impact.

Baz Luhrmann uses this technique several times throughout Moulin Rouge!, but the film is also structured this way as a whole. We’re introduced to the brothel with wild editing, insane characters, a melodramatic plot, bitchin’ production design, guns, seduction, rape, music, artists, absinth, and rapid dialogue about truth and beauty and freedom and love! But the commotion falls into reverent silence at the movie’s climax… and the audience can finally breathe.