It’s Paris in 1899. Christian, who is a young English poet, arrives in the hopes of starting a career as a writer. There, he meets a group of Bohemians who tell him that he should write a musical which will be performed at the Moulin Rouge, the most famous underworld night club in Paris. The night they arrive at the Moulin Rouge, Christian meets Satine, also known as “the Sparkling Diamond,” the club’s star and the most beautiful courtesan in all of Paris. He falls completely in love with her and after some time, she falls for him as well. Meanwhile, the club’s owner Harold Zidler, asks a wealthy Duke to help pay for the club and transform the can-can into a grand theater. The thing is that the Duke will only pay if Satine is his. Because of this, Christian and Satine are forced to hide their love, though later Satine is forced to be with the Duke and it’s up to Christian to get her back. Along with the complications in their love, it’s discovered early in the movie that Satine had Tuberculosis, and the audience saw her health worsen throughout the story, and right when it seems they will have a happy ending, she dies. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge used setting and character archetypes to show that love will find a way no matter what.
Throughout the majority of the film, the setting of Moulin Rouge! is in Paris; apart from certain flashbacks which showed scenes of Christian’s life in London. Luhrmann also used India as a set for the play to add a bit more romance. He used beautiful costumes and a lively setting. Paris has the reputation of being the city of love, where countless mounts of couples go to celebrate their affections, and where the rest would try to find a love of their own. Because of this, Paris was lined with places for lonely men to go and meet courtesans to dance with. This is how Christian and Satine’s love started.
While Christian was narrating the story through his writing, the audience was able to see Paris through his apartment window. During these scenes, Paris looked dull, dark, and lonely. This shown even more when he was alone because during these scenes, Christian was either away from Satine or Satine was already dead. On the other hand, when he was near or in the Moulin Rouge, generally everything around him was bustling with life. People were laughing and dancing, and it gave the impression that everyone was living life to the fullest. This could be interpreted as showing how Christian saw the world around him, and the difference between his view on life with and without Satine. This further showed the strength of his love, and how important she was to him. It was repeated throughout the film that “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” This idea and the strength of his love are clearly portrayed through the use of setting, and we are able to predict that their love would succeed.
This can also be noticed when their love was at its peak and when they were going through the troubles in their relationship. When Christian and Satine were both at their happiest, the city was energetic and loud with laughter and music. But when Christian saw that Satine was with the Duke, everything around him became dull, similar to his view from the apartment window. All of the happiness of the world around him had been sucked away. An example of this would be in the scene of Roxanne, when he was singing through an empty street. It was dark and empty, when usually the nightlife in Paris was the main attraction. The setting also started to change when Satine and Christian started were reunited at the end of the play. The change of their love during this scene was shown through the actions of other people as well as their own. In the beginning of the duet, the scene focused on them, but after this slow build up, everyone on stage began to celebrate and the scene focused more on everyone on set instead of just Christian and Satine. I think that this was done by Luhrmann to emphasize the happy and harsh times that Christian was going through and to fully express what he was feeling.
As mentioned earlier, in the play that Christian had written for the Moulin Rouge, “Spectacular Spectacular!”, the setting he had chosen was India. India was known for its spices and trade, but it was also known as a relatively poor area. Although the costumes and props could be designed to fit a romantic setting, India itself was not known for its romantics, or for having love that fills the air. It was known for its unique culture and the millions of people trying to make money for themselves and their families, which relates back to the story of Christian and Satine. This setting was chosen so that this story could run parallel to theirs. Satine had to choose between an impoverished life with Christian, whom she loved, or a life of security, but with a man who she did not truly love. The courtesan in India had to choose between to similar things, except that instead of a Duke, it was the “evil Maharaja.” This setting was chosen not only for the bright colorful colors and elaborate design, but for the similar social and economic situation. Using this play was another way to show the simplified version of their story in a romanticand entertaining way. Moulin Rouge and India are two very different places and this was used to show how love conquers all because both sets of main characters were able to fight love and defeat the antagonist, showing that location does not affect the love that each character had for the other. An example of this would be in Beauty and the Beast, and how Belle and the Beast fell in love in a dark and dirty castle. In most movies, they make the prettiest girl end up being with the person that everyone would suspect the least (i.e. a nerd, or poor person). This is just like how Belle ends up falling for the Beast even though he was very ugly and scary. She saw that he was more than just a beast and ended up falling for him instead of the big handsome man named Gaston.
The point that the woman did not go for the wealthier man shows not only that love will find a way, but also what real love is. The Duke says: “Why would the courtesan choose the penniless sitar player over the maharajah, who is offering a lifetime of security? That’s real love.” This shows the difference between the protagonist’s view of love and the antagonist’s idea of what true love is. In the end, as both settings show (India and Paris), the success of the lovers shows what the true meaning of love is and that true love will prevail in the end.
This is also shown in a scene where Satine and Harold Zidler have a talk about Christian, when she is found trying to run away. This takes place in Satine’s dressing room where there aren’t any paintings or fur pelts like in her elephant, and she isn’t surrounded by any wealth. She says: “All my life you made me believe I was only worth what someone would pay for me! But Christian loves me. He loves me, Harold! He loves me. And that is worth everything! We’re going away from you, away from the Duke, and away from the Moulin Rouge!” Throughout the entire movie Satine had stressed how the Moulin Rouge was her home, and here she not only understands what real love to her is, but also she decides that she is willing to leave everything for Christian and for a life with him. This is shown by the stripped down walls and the lack of furniture.
When reading or writing a story, its easy to think that love prevailing over all is natural and not all that difficult, so its easy to minimalize the victory won in the end. One scene in Moulin Rouge! however, shows the true struggle that they both faced through setting. Nearing the end of the movie, Christian tries to give Satine the money he got from selling his type writer in order to “pay his debt,” and as a sign of him letting go of her love. This ends up turning into a chase scene, involving guns, heights, and even explosions. I think this showed how Satine was not ready to let go of him, and how like as she hurt him to save him, she ran from him to save their love. This showed how their love triumphed through all obstacles because they both ended up on stage together, reunited, after running through a quite literal obstacle course, and in the end showing their love for everyone to see.
The archetypes that Baz Luhrman used also showed how love conquers all. In the movie, there are three main characters that showed this. One of them, Satine: a courtesan. Courtesans usually do not find true love or a meaningful relationship of their lifestyles and the requirements of their jobs. The whole idea of a courtesan falling in love with someone is unlikely because they are usually the people that give love, or even make people fall in love with them. They do not look for it, in fact in the beginning of this movie, Satine avoids it entirely. It was as if Satine and Christian just formed a special connection, or clicked, after exposing who they really were on the inside. This shows that love conquers all because though the odds were against Christian, because of Satine’s ideas on love, and altough Satine’s entire lifestyle went against the whole concept of love, they found each other in the end.
There was also a whole other part to the movie and how character archetypes influenced it, which was shown through the Duke. Harold needed him badly to pay for his play, but the Duke wanted Satine (along with the deeds to the Moulin Rouge). The Dukes only trait was his wealth. And he was much richer than Christian. The Duke and Christian are just like Gaston and the Beast. Gaston could get anything he wanted, any girl he wanted, apart from the one who he actually desired. The beast on the other hand saw Belle and fell for her, after he set his mind to making her his, there was nothing that could stop him; even if he knew he was the underdog. Christian had no power compared to the Duke, who had everyone in the Moulin Rouge wrapped around his finger, but he still pushed on and tried to win Satine’s love, and afterwards, to win her back once he had lost her at the risk of his own life. It is unlikely that someone with barely any money, or influence, would stand up to one of the richest and most powerful people in Paris to fight for a girl that he had only met several days before. This shows how love defies all, and makes its own rules on how people act and behave towards each other. His archetype was that people will not always fall for the rich and famous, and that some will look past the outside self and see the true beauty within. Some, like Christian and Satine, will go to hell and back just to make one person happy, and to make sure that their love prevails. No matter the cost.
Lehrmann, B. (Director). (2001). Moulin Rouge! [Motion Picture].
Trousdale, G. (Director). (1991). Beauty and the Beast [Motion Picture].