Timeless movies are the fruits of master storytelling. Consider the movie Moulin Rouge which takes the traditional tragic romance to new heights using rich visuals, great music, and subtle (and not so subtle) foreshadowing.
Here’s the basic story:
Christian, a writer seeking inspiration in Paris, falls in love with Satine, a courtesan who is wanted by the powerful and wealthy Duke. Both men are jealous of the other for what they can’t have. The Duke has the right to Satine but not her love, Christian has her love but can’t have her. Satine is obligated to the Duke and must decide between duty and her heart. Christian agrees to write a play for the Moulin Rouge, but in reality is writing their story.
Within the movie we not only see the developing romance between Christian and Satine, hidden from the watchful eye of the Duke, but also the development of the play that mirrors the same story. The Roxanne Tango occurs the night Satine is forced to go to the Duke as a courtesan. The performers at Moulin Rouge know that the future of the theater rests on the Duke being pleased with her. They also know of the relationship between the two lovers. The dance is meant to mock Christian’s pain but in reality it emphasizes the story to the watcher, laying out all the cards in one brilliant five minute montage.
The tango sequence also serves as the film’s emotional climax, bringing together all the elements of the story and holding them in stark contrast to each other. Satine’s world has been turned gray reflecting the emptiness she feels with the duke. Christian’s world is full of reds and blacks showing his burning love tainted by jealousy. The Argentine tells the real story, his gritty voice singing the theme, “With no trust there can be no love, jealousy will drive you mad.”
Although in writing it would be confusing if not impossible to pull off a similar feat, being able to bring together all the elements of a story to a rocket hot emotional climax is not. Moulin Rouge has little to no subplots, all the different elements steer us back to the story of Christian and Satine.
Here’s El Tango de Roxanne, enjoy!