Moulin Rouge 2001

So, Moulin Rouge, 2001 by Baz Luhrmann definitely gets one thing right: the colors.  When we first see Christian, we see him in a deeply blue light, showing his sadness and loss of losing Satine.  Color theory plays heavily in Moulin Rouge as seen here with Christian being blue in the foreground, but the background is still separated because of the orange glow of the lights.  It pushes Christian out from his surroundings and isolates him, pushing the idea that he feels alone and lost without his love.  Blue is also a heavy color that comes around whenever love between Satine and Christian appear, making it a strange contrast of representing their feelings for each other.

However, what can be the most important about color is the lack of color and when to use it.  When we see Christian first arrive in Paris, he is completely new and naïve and thus his surroundings reflect this.  Without the saturated colors of the Moulin Rouge and his older wiser self, Christian represents a blank canvas in which he has yet to fill with experiences and love, or color.  Satine herself will become a metaphorical paintbrush to Christian as she is always represented in bright, saturated colors while Christian is still in a black and white suit.  By having the background dulled out with washed out colors, it makes the future saturated mess that is the Moulin Rouge all that more outstanding and colorful.


Singular colors can be also used to great symbolism as well.  Green becomes the color of sickness and almost addition.  As seen here, the green drink abstentine at first creates an alluring green light in which the characters all focus on intently, but quickly turns to something evil and almost frightening.  It makes the characters massively drunk, spiraling out of control into the Moulin Rouge, the place where sex is a drug and people go to satisfy their addiction.  The men there even say in part of their song that they feel, “Stupid and contagious.”

As mentioned before, now that the dulled out colors of the train station are long gone, the explosion of the Moulin Rouge and all it has to offer really shines.  There are almost too many things to follow as the camera whips around with the Can Can Dance and the dancers.  However, the men and women are still distinguished from each other because of the different of the women’s bright dresses and the men’s black and white suits, which is a good balance of lack of and almost too much color.  If the men has been in equally outrageous suits, no one would be able to follow anything or know where to look and the whole scene could fall apart on the audience.  The idea here is to use color and flashes of light to snare the audience in the spectacle that is the Moulin Rouge, not overwhelm them.

You know something is important when something in the scene changes very rapidly or almost instantly and in this case, Moulin Rouge once again uses its ability of giving and taking away color to introduce Satine.  With all the other girls in Moulin Rouge introduced with bright flashy colors, only Satine stands apart as she is introduced with a dulled out pallet of black and white, pushing her apart from the other girls further in the idea that she is the “sparkling diamond” of the Moulin Rouge.  Her introduction takes this a step further; while the other girls are introduced through simple doors, Satine gets glitter falling from the sky as she descends into the room, seated on a metaphorical throne as she looks down on all the “commoners.”

So this is more of a technical shot that anything else, but Satine and Christian dance in the overly saturated blue of a fantasy Paris.  Once again, the theme of blue and the symbolism of their eventual not-to-be romance is played heavily here as Satine and Christian only see each other, the rest of the world being blocked out.  Other than the symbolism, there really isn’t that much to talk about technically.

Moulin Rouge plays songs more like a Broadway than a film and I say this because of the overly used eye contacts with the audience, although it still tries to keep with the idea of being a film because the audience takes the place of the Duke as the cast tries to sell their pitch of Spectacular Spectacular.  However, unlike other examples such as Breaker Morant, the eye contact isn’t so jarring because the scene is played out as a light hearted musical.  It becomes a gag for humor as opposed to something to catch the audience off guard.  Really nice layering here as well as used of colors in the background and monochromatic colors in the foreground.

Once more looking out Christian’s window, we have several points of symbolism going on.  First off, Christian is surrounded by blue, the color of love and the theme of Satine’s eventual downfall.  However, we also see the Moulin Rouge in red, the theme of lust for Satine.  She dresses in red for the “Smoldering Temptress” outfit she is going to wear for the Duke, she has red lipstick and rouge when she is working, and she also wears the red dress for when she and Christian first sing together on the elephant.

As immediately seen here.  It’s strange to see Satine and Christian’s relationship because it’s a mixture of both love and lust, just like the theme of contradiction of their love and death.  Even though Christian barely knows Satine, he’s already fallen in love with her, wants to be with her and is declaring his everlasting love for her in the middle of the night on an elephant, yet still spews about true love.  It goes along with the later theme that a man cannot fall in love with a courtesan because he can never know if the love is real.  On the technical side, note the same idea of warm colors pushing out Satine and Christian while the darker blues stay in the background to keep them separated.  This creates more depth and space within the shot.  Also, the brightest thing, the lamp is in ht every foreground so that we really don’t lose the layering theme.

Just a symbolism note here, but the poster of Satine is colored in green, the color for sickness.  This represents both Satine’s physical illness, but also the obsessive desire of the Duke, who Zidler is currently talking to.  It still creates a nice framing composition for Zidler and encloses him into a tighter shot, just like the Duke is trapping him by making him sign the Moulin Rouge over to the Duke.

And once again, the theme of green is shown here in a light overtone as Satine studies herself in the mirror.  It really pushes the idea that she is not herself, for she now looks ugly and ill – that death is taking over her body that otherwise is shown as the height of desire for men.  Also note the warm versus cool colors again as seen in Satine’s red collar and the cool green background.

So this is kind of an awkward metaphor for several things.  First off, we immediately get the idea that the Duke doesn’t really love Satine as much as he just wants to have sex with her.  In comparison to how Christian woos Satine, the Duke menacingly stands over “Satine” and makes himself bigger and more intimidating with his robe.  “Satine” cowers in fear of the Duke, as opposed to the time when she is with Christian and they are on equal levels and she is visibly happy and relaxed.  It tells the audience that the Duke doesn’t really care about Satine, or else he wouldn’t be forcing her and her friends into the problems that they are in.  From this shot, we can also get a foreshadowing of the Duke’s aggressive and eventual violent behavior and attempted rape of Satine.  We can literally see this scene played out again when the Duke angrily growls, “You made me believe that you loved me.”  However, let’s not forget that it’s not really Satine, but Zidler posing as Satine.  If we think about it, the audience can also make connections that the Duke is taking advantage of Zidler, forcing him to sign over the Moulin Rouge and threatening constantly to close the Moulin Rouge down if he doesn’t do what the Duke wants or makes up lies to avoid disaster.

Obvious metaphor is obvious.  Christian is standing in between the Duke and Satine, making a barrier between them.  It’s also interesting to see that the Duke and Christian are facing each other so that they are literally going head to head for Satine’s affections, although Christian already has Satine’s love, which shows because they are facing the same direction.  Once again, note the warm red that Satine wears and the cool blue shirt Christian wears as he stands in the background.

One of the most memorable dances from the film, El Tango de Roxanne, shows a great deal of movement and aggressive actions that reflect upon the current state of the film.  It is also a dance that is heavily dressed in red to show the lust that the men have for Satine.  However, it opens in a supremely interesting way.  With the heavy blue color and black dress, Satine goes to the “tower to save [them] all.”  She is dressed in a veil and is shown entering through a black curtain.  She is literally throwing herself upon the chopping block to save the members of the Moulin Rouge and Christian.  Meanwhile, the Moulin Rouge is colored heavy red for the symbolism of lust and desire that both the song and the scene are trying to get across.

However, Satine learns that the Duke is prepared to kill Christian and moves to stop it, but the only way she can is to break it off with Christian.  The whole scene goes monochrome and Satine dresses in her grayed out dress and veil to show her lack of love or her acting like she doesn’t love Christian anymore.  This opposes the heavy colors that we have seen before and also shows how hard this is for Satine and her fellow actors at the Moulin Rouge who are all working to pick up the pieces of their work, sewing, mending and rebuilding, for the “show must go on.”

After Satine leaves Christian, he instantly falls into a deep depression and is literally surrounded and saturated in blue.  He is consumed by his love and betrayal for Satine.  He sits in the lower left corner of the screen to show his weak mental state.

However, once Satine and Christian find each other again, the whole screen explodes with color and everything comes back alive in movement.  Satine and Christian are in the center of the stage and for all they care about, the world.  Also note the heavy heart shapes in the background to symbolize their love for each other.


Despite everything that has happened and all the wrongs that have been corrected, Satine is still dying.  Finally, in the end, she collapses into Christian’s arms.  Note the red and white petals falling around Satine to symbolize her life slipping away and the idea of a flower losing its petals as it dies.  And in the end, Christian is left alone in the circle of petals and the shadows of the other players, symbolizing the ghosts of the Moulin Rouge as it eventually goes out of business.  The darker lighting also symbolizes the life leaving Satine as it eventually fades away.  Christian is left alone to write the story of the Moulin Rouge as Satine asked him to.

Moulin Rouge is one of those films I feel gets overlooked, but definitely check it out for its color themes and crazy ideas of freedom, beauty, truth and love.


~ by bgarla on May 30, 2011.

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