When the Can-Can Was Divine

A Muslim scholar deconstructs Best Picture nominee 'Moulin Rouge'

Alan Godlas is an associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia who specializes in Islamic studies and Arabic. A Westerner, he studied Alan GoldlasSufism in the United States and at the University of Teheran in Iran. His five-year-old website has become an information hub for Muslims in the United States.

"Moulin Rouge" is a dreamlike fantasy, set in the famous nightclub in turn-of-the-last-century Paris, where the singer and courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman) is the main attraction. To finance his next extravaganza, the Moulin Rouge's owner offers Satine to a rich duke. Satine, however, falls in love with the penniless writer of the planned show, and when the Duke finds out, both the future of the club and the lovers are imperiled. Dr. Godlas talked with Culture producer Paul O'Donnell what "Moulin Rouge" might mean to a person of faith.

Obviously, a big theme was the power of love.

Right, but what really interested me was how divine love might be clarified by looking at this presentation of worldly love. In the Christian West, with the Enlightenment and modernism, divine love ceases to be at the center of Western civilization, and instead you had two main competing attitudes toward love: romanticism, or love for love's sake, contrasted with love and sex as means of achieving security in the world. These two themes are still battling it out; I think the movie was portraying the tension between those two.


So you have the voice of the young writer, the Ewan McGregor's character, competing with the voice of security being offered by the Duke, romanticism versus love in the service of materialism.

And it's no doubt which we're supposed to pick.

The movie tilts toward love for love's sake, even though it does it with a kind of mocking tone. I don't know if this was conscious on the part of the director or not. In modernism, we take this dialectic very seriously, but the movie had a sort of postmodernist grace note advising us to treat it all as play. There was a sort of superficial, trite commentary that we shouldn't take this too seriously.

But I began thinking about how these two themes are relevant to someone who is on a path of spiritual love. On a path of love of God, there are those who emphasize that true love of God has to be unattached, unconditional, without attention to reward, just love of God for the sake of love of God. You have in Sufism--the mystical tradition that I'm

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