• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #214: Christian


Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.

I've never walked out of a movie theater, but the closest I ever came was during the first ten minutes of Moulin Rouge! It was so bizarre, so disjointed, so psychedelic, and I wasn't adequately prepared for what I was seeing. But we stuck it out, and were amply rewarded for that choice. The movie is director Baz Luhrmann's best work, his most effective musical tragicomedy. The folding of modern music into an anachronistic setting works perfectly here, making the quaint fin-de-siecle nightclub seem avant-garde even to a modern viewer. The cast is terrific, even Nicole Kidman's singing and acting. But I'll confess that my greatest enjoyment here came from Ewan McGregor's unexpectedly bravura turn as Christian, the young would-be poet caught up in love and deceit and heartbreak at the Moulin Rouge.


There was a boy...a very strange, enchanted boy...and yet, though the film introduces us to Christian with these lyrics, he remains the most normal of characters in this fantastical theater of the absurd, populated by bohemians and courtesans and low royalty. Christian is us and we are him, outsiders trying to penetrate a world just beyond our grasp, a world of seeming liberty and pleasure and creativity, and yet one a scarce step ahead of the real world of debt and lust and jealousy. The main story, a loose adaptation of Verdi's La Traviata (or, as Luhrmann himself as suggested, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice), layers fiction and truth, as performers and writers find themselves increasingly unable or unwilling to distinguish between art and life.


This is what Christian wanted so badly. This first-person experience of exultation and despair to inform his writing, to inject him with the pleasure and pain necessary for great art. He gets this in spades, living a first-order love story that ends in abject tragedy. He is inspired, and learns to his agony that while suffering might make for great craft, the suffering itself is no picnic.

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