Up until a few months ago Moulin Rouge was one of those movies I was heard about and I would see it, but never actually got around to it. I, much like so many of my friends, knew most of the words to Lady Marmalade, the huge hit sung by the early 2000s music super stars Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Lil Kim and Mya, but it wasn’t until I saw Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s long program at the Pyeongchang winter olympics that I actually decided to watch it. The ice dancers truly put on a show. I was still mesmerized by the performance that came before theirs, but there was clearly a story behind that beautiful dance that I just had to know.
And so, a few days later, I sat down in my bed and saw the movie I had been putting off for so long. It was an experience. The cinematography was gorgeous. The new renditions of the songs I knew so well were unexpectedly amazing and worked perfectly with the storyline. Ewan McGregor, who up until this point I only knew as Obi-Wan Kenobi, was suddenly the dreamiest man in the world and my new celebrity crush.
I saw the movie about three more times that week. It quickly became a favorite, a go-to whenever I was feeling down or stressed or simply needed to get away from the world for a bit. And that made me wonder, what exactly was it about Moulin Rouge that made me feel better?
Well, Moulin Rouge is a movie set in 1899 Paris and it tells the love story between Christian, an English writer who left his rich family behind to go live the bohemian way of life in Montmartre, and Satine, a French courtesan who is the star of the Moulin Rouge.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Montmartre became famous for being home of the artists who fought for the bohemian revolutionary ideals of freedom, beauty, truth and love. In a capitalist world, where for the first time there was social mobility, people came to realize that their inner world, their subjective world, differed from their exterior, from the world that surrounded them. For the first time people were able to make choices about their future and that gave them an immense sense of freedom. However, with these choices, came the realization that we are alone in a very competitive world. The euphoria of freedom always is accompanied by the melancholy of solitude.
Not being able to bear the idea of being constantly torn between these feelings, the artists that went to Montmartre longed for all the ideals that weren’t present in their capitalist driven world. They longed for the past, more than that, they longed for an utopian version of the past, where their values were alive and at the centre of society, even if that wasn’t what had actually happened. In that neighborhood they could live through the denial of capitalism, they could live through leisure, refusing to be productive members of the system.
At this point you might ask me what any of this has to do with my love for Moulin Rouge. The truth is, while we might live over a century after this story takes place, its message is still very relevant for our society. Art is in many ways driven by feelings and the problems of the people who create it. If this message wasn’t still current, there wouldn’t be movies like Moulin Rouge, or ice dance routines to its soundtrack.
We still live in a capitalist world. We still see problems with the system. We still feel both the euphoria of freedom and the melancholy of solitude. We still strive for belonging. And Moulin Rouge is my way of escaping into a world of freedom, beauty, truth and love. You might have a different one, but we are all children of the 19th century and we are all still searching for the same things they did.
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox