Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge is a masterpiece for its dazzling and ostentatious storytelling, but take one song out of the equation, and the heart of the film is gone. Much like Christian and Satine’s love story, the “Elephant Love Medley” is an integral part of the film and, quite frankly, the song that hits the hardest. Whether in the Broadway production or the original film, the story shifts exponentially when Christian tries to convince Satine that they should give love a chance. Further, while the jukebox blends play a significant role in the plausible start, much of their romance’s spirit is rooted in the dialogue.
If, like me, you lose sleep thinking about the softer emphasis in Ewan McGregor’s voice when he responds to Satine’s “you will be mean” with “no, I won’t,” then you came to the right place. Because ultimately, while the “Elephant Love Medley” is sensational, it’s the dialogue that promises the best kind of romance. Christian’s doe-eyed behavior shows the audience that he’s a man who falls hard and fast, but his innate kindness through his response indicates that this relationship will be special.
As a courtesan, we could be sure of the fact that Satine has received plenty of unwanted and malicious attention despite the detail that she’s consenting to this job. As the diamond of the Moulin Rouge, she’s used to playing a part and putting on a show, but Nicole Kidman repeatedly shows the audience through her expressiveness that it’s seldom ever easy to be in her position. Her concerns remind viewers that men aren’t always kind, while her hesitations indicate that though they pay for a night with her, they seldom respect her.
And that’s partly why of all the things Satine could say at that moment, she tells him it won’t work out because “he will be mean.” It forces us to question whether she’s ever tried to be in a relationship of sorts, resulting in the kind of crudeness that’s prompted her to want to drink. Or are these the kind of relationships she grew up witnessing, forcing her to believe in the fact that love’s merely a silly emotion to sing about and not dive further into?
Whatever the reasoning, nothing is more apparent during the “Elephant Love Medley” than Christian’s sincerity in “no, I won’t.” You don’t even have to watch the scene to be able to hear his jovial benevolence. McGregor packs one punch after another with his performance during this number, but none hit as evocatively as the promise of perpetual kindness.
Christian’s sincerity, coupled with his genuine belief in love’s healing abilities, allows every word he sings to set explosions ablaze. It’s in his tone where we can hear most of his heart come to the surface, and McGregor’s tender expressions match Kidman’s hesitations so seamlessly that the push and pull in the number glistens with astonishing fervor.
Additionally, having the dialogue fall after Bowie’s “Heroes” makes it much more evocative, lighting up the night sky with the kind of hope that stems from persistence in a world where people outside tirelessly push against their success. Where everything is loud and boisterous at the Moulin Rouge, even the high notes hit with the intensity of the quietly comforting intimacy that heals deep within. It’s a simple promise, three words, yet the sincerity Christian laces them with is so palpable there’s no denying the colossal weight of his emotions.
Thereby, while “Come What May” might be the glaring vow in their love story, the steadfast trust simmers and spreads through the “Elephant Love Medley.” There’s indescribable warmth in his kindness and the searing promise that brings in a world of constellations amidst smokey chaos and hazy darkness. Because of his diligent sincerity, the gravity of his adoration becomes a safe place to fall, giving her heart the secure space to find a home in and outside of the dressing room that once only knew of cold, loveless obligations.