I was watching the Nostalgia Critic’s review of Moulin Rouge the other day (there we go, that might bring the hits up a bit) and there was one part of the film that he glossed over that’s actually my favorite part of the film.
Now, normally I’d insert some of spoiler warning but it’s Moulin Rouge. Every woman saw it and every man was forced to see it. If you are one of the few that don’t know it’s a love story, excessively so about a young English playwright named Christian (Ewan McGregor) falling in love with a prostitute/Cabaret girl named Satine (Nicole Kidman) who performs at the eponymous Moulin Rouge. The two fall in love despite the fact that Satine is promised to sleep with a wealthy Duke in exchange for financial backing to turn the Moulin Rouge from a Bordello/Cabaret Club to a proper theatre.
The part I adore most is when Toulouse-Lautrec (played by John Leguizamo) speaks to Christian after Satine has convinced Christian that she doesn’t love him. In an powerful shift of character Tolouse, who’s normally a very loud, vibrant, energetic character speaks very softly about how he believes Satine still loves Christian. He also delivers the best monologue of the film.
“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and prostitutes. But I know about art and love… if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being. She loves you. I know it.
I know she loves you.”
Excuse me I need a cigarette.
God I love that monologue. It’s one of the two parts of the film I adore with the other being “El Tango De Roxanne” which comes in second. This remarkably short but brilliantly effective monologue in a few seconds transforms Tolouse from an otherwise comedic figure into a brilliantly complex and deep human being. In that moment we are given a startling insight into Tolouse and into his friends the Bohemians by extrapolation. Tolouse is someone fully aware of his disabilities and failings as the world perceives him and has actively chosen a life of artistic pursuit and a personality full of vitality rather than mope and profess endlessly about the sorrow of his situation.
You know, like how Christian does as he narrates the entire freaking film.
And if that’s true, what about the rest of the Bohemians?
The team is made up of the Narcoleptic Argentinian (Jacek Koman), The Doctor… no, not that Doctor (Garry MacDonald), and Saite (Matthew Whittet), who may in fact be the famous Erik Saite, eccentric musical composer and writer. Not that I’m certain on that last point mind you. I only found out the rest of the Bohemian’s names by coming across this youtube clip since the movie doesn’t give them much attention.
I have a sneaking suspicion though that at some point that was the plan and I think a larger focus was intended for this group of misfits. Each of the Bohemians are eccentric to the point where you’d call them outsiders by conventional societal standards. Yet each of them has a great lust for artistic pursuit. When the Argentinian performs “El Tango De Roxanne” (my second favorite part of the movie) he does it with incredible pain and agony in his voice. Is this an actual story from the Argentinian’s life? Was he once like Christian and fell in love with a Prostitute? How did their romance end? He obviously left his home country. Why?
What about the Doctor? The oldest member of the Bohemians? Is he like a father figure to the rest of them? If we follow what the youtube clip says then he’s an open Absinthe abuser. What sort of loss has he experienced? Are the other Bohemians so jovial just to cheer up their mentor that took them under his wing when the world rejects them as freaks? In turn doe they rejuvenate his lust for life?
What about Saite the composer? Constantly questing to produce music that haunts and moves the soul? Has that quest become an obsession that cost him family and friends until his only comrades in life were the other Bohemians? Men who find themselves at odds with the world and choose to celebrate their individuality through artistic expression?
I grant you I’m extrapolating a lot here and it’s all likely conjecture. I do imagine that someone, at some point, intended the Bohemians to show a stronger mentorship role to Christian then they did in the film. That would only make sense really. Of course, we got what we got. And why?
Well I can think of two reasons really. One, the original inspiration for the core concept of the film for Baz Luhrmann was a Bollywood movie and it shows. Two, a very famous film centric around the historic Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec exists made in 1958 also, suspiciously, called Moulin Rouge. It too was an Oscar winner and focused on the torment of the famous painter’s life; so, I can see how that would be basically retreading ground. Plus in that film Toulouse is played by José Ferrer and that’s not even a fair fight.
Plus Tolouse and Saite are famous historic figures and there are only so many liberties you can take with their life. Saying that for a few months they courted a young talent writer is an easy trick to pull off. Still, as I said earlier, the film would have only profited from a greater influence from the Bohemians as the two truly expressive moments they do have are the best in the film.
So too does this work exist.