I’m not one who’s inclined to post a review when there are already three available, and all of them so well-written. But considering that this is one of the most polarizing movies I have ever seen in terms of people’s reactions, I feel the need to mention something about the other point of view that no one here has bothered to attest to yet.
The first time I saw this movie I hated it. I passionately, violently despised it. (For those of you who loved it, note that my declaring it the ‘first time’ I saw it implies that I saw it again, and that some change may have occurred in my thinking between viewings, and as a result you should not systematically downvote me yet for my sin of disparaging your favorite, revolutionary, unique piece of art … Just keep reading. Really. It’ll be worth it.)
The slaughter of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ made me shiver. The cheesy revamping of every 80s love song known to man in ‘Elephant Love Medly’ made me nauseous, and the final metamorphosis into ‘I Will always Love You’ almost pushed me over the edge. ‘Like A Virgin’ was an eye-clawing, breast-beating, retching kind of an exercise in self-torture.
But that was nothing compared with the ending. Satine’s breathy, pathetic, fading-in-and-out-of-the-screen efforts to come to terms with her own mortality made me cringe until the final, trite, overly dramatic, whiny write-a-story-so-I’ll-live-forever ending sent me gasping for air out of the blood-stained theatre and into the open street.
My friends were so repulsed that they sent the following email to our collective newsgroup with the subject ‘DO NOT SEE MOULIN ROUGE’ (the names have been abbreviated in order to protect the innocent; I'll give it away that I am 'D'):
Picture Em, B, E, D, Some Guy, and Z.
They are sitting in that order left to right in a movie theatre. I forgot Some Guy's name, having just met him.
They are watching <bad french accent>The Moulin Rougggggge</bad french
E whispers to B: "B, this movie..."
B: "Yes, E"
E: "It ... it's killing me. Killing me softly."
B and E break in to a remixed (badly) version of "Killing Me Softly"
Then Em leans over.
Em: "Be quiet guys."
E and B: "Why?"
Em: "Look, just stop. Collaborate and listen, Em's back with a brand new edition."
And the three of us break in to a remixed version of "Ice Ice Baby"
Then D, shaking turns to Z: "Z, I'm scared."
Z: "Of what?"
D: "E, B, and Em are acting like the movie!"
Z: "Well, whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune..."
And then Z starts singing that song from the beginning of "The King and I"
As D and her friend run screaming from the theatre.
Now, that really didn't happen, but it could have. And that's just what happens in the movie "Moulin Rouge"
Stay away, very far away...
The lack of a single line of original dialogue in the entire bloody movie, suffice it to say, was a problem for us.
But the images, the beautiful, fading, half-shadowed/half-brilliant glimpses ... the dramatic professions of the love I feel I’m missing... all of the beauty I had lost behind the triteness refused to leave me alone.
In my daydreams at work, I watched the world pass through slowly tilting windmill blades to focus in on fuzzy, grey renderings of Christian, standing anxiously in the doorway of the hotel. I felt Satine crying in the bright white dress on the stage, and quietly singing after I am through with my whore to ask him to come back to her I love you. I saw the joy in Christian’s face and his smile as he screamed we should be lovers as they danced in the moonlight. Flashing images of the Roxanne tango in all of its rapture and all of its intensity stayed with me: Christian belting his anguish with all his might in the rain; the Argentinian grasping a lady’s thin wrists in a slowly expanding dance, shaking with rage; Satine gasping, whispering ‘no’.
...Instead of the obnoxious, breathy dialogue at the end of the movie I saw Christian, shaking, spots of blood on his collar, his hands tracing over and over and over Satine’s fragile face, sputtering with loss and incomplete.
I borrowed the soundtrack and listened to it over and over. I went to see it again because I couldn’t forget it and couldn’t remember enough. I went to the bathroom for the entirety of ‘Like a Virgin’ this time and made it through alright (there are some darker forces more powerful than love....) I smiled and smiled and smiled because it felt so wonderful to be able to believe in love.
That’s what Moulin Rouge gave me. It gave me the feeling I haven’t had in so long, and now it still won’t get out of my head. But this time I don’t care. I like watching the young lovers sing from far across the room come what may I will love you. I like watching the space between them -- though physically far -- drop to nothing in the wraps of their entirely public, private intimacy. I like believing in this sense of magic throughout my day. I like the ideas of freedom, beauty, truth and love.
This movie got under my skin. You love it or you hate it, and I went through both. But I will not deny it, now, that it is one of the most brilliant, cinematographically moving pieces of film-making I have ever seen, and that its haunting presence will not leave me for some time to come.
Thank goodness. I know I’d hate to lose it.