I just saw Moulin Rouge on Broadway and my age doesn’t get it. I went from “Team Christian” to “Team Satine” to my utter shock. But let’s rewind.
Moulin Rouge is a spectacle that gives you everything you hope for – massive production numbers, a dazzling cast, and a badass update to the music (as if that was even necessary). I had a great time.
And, although the plot is not at all child-friendly) nor is the spread-legged g-string choreography) I couldn’t help thinking constantly about the lessons I’d hope my kids could garner from the message…were they ever to see the show.
When I first saw Moulin Rouge, the movie, I was alllllll about Christian’s dreams of living for love and truth and beauty and freedom…the four pillars of Moulin Rouge’s message.)
And now? As a jaded father with life experience, I empathized slightly more with Satine’s dilemma.
My age doesn’t get it.
And that makes me kind of sad. But also – shrug – it’s life.
The story (if you need a refresher) is: Satine (played ravishingly by both Nicole Kidman and Karen Olivo) falls in love with Christian (Ewan McGregor and the vocally-stunning Aaron Tveit) but must also indulge in a love affair with a Duke, without whom her beloved Moulin Rouge would close and she’d be back on the streets as a struggling artist (and probably prostitute).
Romantic escapades and pleading scenes “what more is there to live for than love?” scenes ensue.
The frequent reference to the bohemians struggling in the squalor of 1890’s Paris is the principle that life is only meaningful with truth, beauty, love and youth.
And I quickly thought: you know what’s sexy? Truth and beauty and love.
You know what’s not sexy? Poverty.
What else isn’t sexy? Endless struggle, even in the name of art.
So once again: my age doesn’t get it.
A few times throughout the show, Christian begs the indulgence of the audience to “remember the thrill of your first love.” That was a smart “breaking the fourth wall” device allowing cynics (guilty) to put aside eye rolls and appreciate Christian’s infatuation.
And I totally went to my own “folly of first love” – to my obsession with Jenny in seventh grade, Lori in 8th, Eileen in college, and the uncontrollable, untethered, schizophrenia of the beginning of my current relationship with my partner (which of course still has that burning passion 15 years later.)
But even without my cynicism, I still empathized with Satine (who’s quickly losing her youth.). If she indulges the Duke, she gets to continue to perform at the Moulin Rouge, will have relative stability (for Bohemian Paris in the 1890’s) and a working artist.
Sure, she lacks the love. And joy. But come, now. Even Satine and Toulouse Lautrec (her friend in the show for fictional but historical context) muse about the purity of their art, but misery of their poverty.
What should she prize more? Love and joy? Or warmth and food and choose to be happy as the concubine of an insanely rich man?
I honestly don’t know what is the “right” choice.
Of course I want my children to experience the insanity of youthful love. And I hope they experience that passion throughout their lives. That ravishing thrill of love can re-visit throughout the ages, but it definitely mellows with romantic commitment. I hope they experience it over and over.
I hope my kids realize that burning passion often (maybe not always) fades, and, in the end, making practical decisions about life is necessary to live with relative comfort and stability.
Ugh. I feel like I’m undermining my own principles of beauty, truth, love and freedom. But those massive values aren’t always timeless.
If I were Satine’s or Christian’s parents, I’d definitely counsel “I’m sure it was fab to be so in love with this penniless artist. But it’s time to make life choices. Christian: go get a real job and call me when you’re done. Satine: choose to be happy living in comfort as a working actor(!) in 1890’s Paris!”
Further, I suppose this fading of beauty and youth (and transition of love through experience) is quite possibly the point of art – to bring us pleasure in the things that fade, remind us of bygone emotions and feelings; and to help us connect to our faded passions.
Such practicality is foreign to the folly of youth.
And perhaps why art is probably appreciated all the more with age.
As was my experience with Moulin Rouge.
Thank goodness for art and music and stories, because without their focus on love, beauty, freedom, and truth, our stories would be dull and cynicism would consume us. We need art (and to force-feed culture to our children) to remind us of bigger ideas and a connection to these Moulin Rouge pillars.
We need the romance and beauty (and the pain) to move our emotions in our busy lives – so we can remember that glorious insanity of unlimited love…without always having to live it.
Cuz let’s face it… no one can get shit done when in the throes of Satine-Christian passion.
But it’s fun while it lasts.
I’ll have to add this to my canon of ageist idioms:
Age doesn’t get it. Sigh. I’m so old.
*** Quick side-note: I LOVE that Moulin Rouge is devoting some of its commercially-won dollars to support “The Bohemian Project“, pledging grants to help emerging creatives and artists. (Though the website states “more info and partners coming soon” and the show’s been open for months. So.)