"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
In the Sufi tradition, the poet Rumi really plays the two against one another. He emphasizes the need for giving up hope for reward. He emphasizes being in love with God for the sheer pleasure of it. In "Moulin Rouge," the courtesan hears the Duke's message--"Oh I'll be able to be a real actress," she says, "I'll have security, I'm a material girl after all." This is like someone who is loving God for the sake of reward and not for God's sake alone. It makes it seem rather crass. This kind of love is vastly inferior to the unconditional love of God.
But both God and the Duke--not that the moviemakers were trying to make this parallel--both invite us to pursue that security.
Yes, God invites us to salvation. And if we take that, that's okay. But from the ecstatic Sufi perspective, God extends another invitation, which is more profound, which is to love God without being motivated by desire for paradise or fear of hell. There's a story that's told of Rabi'a, an important Sufi woman, who one day was seen walking through the city with a torch in one hand and a bucket in the other. And someone asked her, "Rabi'a, what are you doing?" And she said "With this bucket I am going to quench the fires of hell so that no one will be devoted to God out of fear of hell. And with this torch I'm going to burn the gardens of paradise so no one will be devoted to God for desire for paradise."
Are they mutually exclusive?
Not necessarily. As people grow spiritually, they are often attracted to divine love for the perks, one of which is salvation. But a more sober Sufi perspective would say it's important to recognize that hope of salvation is a stage that is very nurturing but once believers get to the point where they contrast salvation with unconditional love of God, they begin to taste the difference and let go of the motivation for salvation.
Right. The movie says love for love's sake means that love for the sake of security-or love for the sake of paradise--must die.