The Toxic Masculinity of the New "Moulin Rouge!"

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Photo: Matthew Murphy

  • Trevor Durham

WARNING: This post contains spoilers of the Broadway musical, “Moulin Rouge!”

This season, nothing on Broadway can match the colorful explosions of Moulin Rouge! Blending the best parts of Cabaret and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 with the film, Moulin Rouge! is a poignant celebration of love, musical medleys, and energetic dance. However, what the film brought forth in unadulterated, heart-wrenching romance, the stage show sadly twists into familiar examples of masculinity at its most toxic. In changing things drastically from the contemporary film classic, book writer John Logan, and returning writers Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce have turned the show into something less than bohemian romance.

The stage adaptation of Moulin Rouge!, which opens on July 25, expands greatly upon its characters, giving backstories and changes to every character of the film, and padding the motivations of everybody involved. Taking great artistic license, the stage show doubles or even triples the songs from the film, adding splashes of early 2000s pop, singles from the 2010s, and even a Rolling Stones medley. The show adds a queer character in Baby Doll, a queer performer at the Moulin Rouge who is afraid of being sent back to the streets. But while inclusion seems to be firm in the first act, the second act feels much more in line with violent masculine culture.

Take a look at the news of this past week. You’ll no doubt find Bianca Devins' name. A 17-year-old Utica teenager, Devins was brutally murdered by her stalker. A man, obsessed with his love, hunted her down and killed her, leaving the evidence publicly online for people to find.

At the end of the Moulin Rouge! film, Christian doesn’t take the rejection by Satine well. In the film, he goes to her show and throws money at her, declaring that he’s paid his whore, and walking away. Then, Satine calls him back with their song. Tears abound.

At the end of Moulin Rouge! on Broadway, Christian also doesn’t take the rejection by Satine well. But this time, he purchases a pistol, and loads the gun while singing a slow Adele ballad. He goes to the opening of her show, raises the pistol to her, threatening to kill her with the age old threat: if he can’t have her, nobody can.

At this point, all emotional connection to the show was lost for me. I saw Devins’ name flashing in my head. No longer is Christian the hero of this tale, but, the same as the Duke for wanting to own her. And the same as the man who killed Bianca Devins.

It’s important to note that Devins was biromantic asexual. So the toxic masculinity extended to her queer identity.

“It’s about dominating her world and wanting to be the only person who is important,” said Cindy Southworth of the U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence in regards to Devins' murder. With annual statistics of the National Domestic Violence Hotline suggesting that 1 in 6 women have been stalked, I can’t join in with Moulin Rouge! patrons who cry for this lost love.

Especially when Christian then turns the pistol to himself, onstage in front of the world, and tries to kill himself so that Satine will love him, or regret losing him. “I can’t see the point in living without love [sic],” he spits at her.

Psychology Today paints a vivid picture of this manipulation technique, stating:

“It is reasonable to ask why certain people voice a threat of suicide in such a situation – the situation of being rejected by someone they love […] Why are these people so vulnerable? It is likely because they, more than others, are defined by that particular relationship. That is who they are. Without that particular partner whom they love, their lives are meaningless.”

The age-old manipulation, threatening harm or suicide if someone is to leave you, is emotionally abusive, harrowing, and one that has been used on countless women of this age.

I am distraught that this show, bringing incredible performances by Aaron Tveit, Karen Olivo, Danny Burnstein, and the entire cast, has to end this way. I am broken that a show including music and dance and laughs of this scale turns so sour in its final throes. I am crushed, that a night of freedom, beauty, truth, and love, ends in a stark reminder that Bianca Devins, and so many others, were murdered by the exact type of ‘love’ that this show offers.