Moulin Rouge: Feeling the Duke
The Duke is portrayed as the opposite of the bohemian "dogma" he detests yet sponsors in the form of the show "Spectacular Spectacular" in order to win over the woman he loves, Satine. Ewan MacGregor's warm effortless singing as underdog hero Christian is some of the best I've heard. But of the male characters in this romantic tragedy, I identify more with the hurt betrayal of Roxburgh's Duke. The Duke is a desperately lonely, unattractive man who falls in love with a beautiful woman whom he believes is in love with him.
The Duke begins the story guarded by his dignity, but he makes himself vulnerable to be in love. The Duke does the best he can - gives Satine everything he can - to earn her love. Satine cultivates his desire and pretends to care for him, but she only wants his wealth. In return for her false promise of love, the Duke gives Satine his soul.
Except Satine never loves him. Satine's love and devotion that the Duke gives so much for and works so hard to earn, Satine freely gives instead to another man: Christian. All of the Duke's sacrifices for Satine's sake, his social standing, and life achievements amount to nothing.
For most of the movie, the Duke trusts Satine. He is portrayed as a fool whose love blinds him to the affair conducted by the lovers literally in his presence. For a brief, glorious time, the naive Duke believes Satine's love is his, but it never was. Passionate love for a woman, denied, warps from great light into deep darkness. Once awoken to the truth, the Duke's spurned love becomes ugly, and he transforms from laughable cuckold to an electrically dangerous man. Christian isn't above the same emotional swing. When Christian felt betrayed, his love for Satine became dark and ugly as well, until Christian's love is redeemed by Satine as the truth.
In this video clip of Satine's dying performance at the Moulin Rouge, the Duke has a front-row seat to witness Satine confess her real love to the world by calling Christian back with their "secret" song. Watch closely Roxburgh's sensitive portrayal of the Duke's dawning realization that his dream is being ripped from him. It is a great love scene for Christian and Satine, but I can't empathize with their joyous reunion. Rather, I can share in the Duke's growing pain of rejection and love denied. It's a crushing feeling.
As Christian and Satine celebrate their love's triumph with their bohemian friends, what happens to the Duke's love? He loved Satine every bit as much as Christian and worked as hard to earn her love. Does the Duke not deserve just as much as Christian for his love to triumph? When Satine cruelly dismisses him and shoves her choice of Christian in the Duke's face, what is there to soften the blow to his soul? The lie of false loyalty was Satine's, not the Duke's. Rather than soar into "freedom, beauty, truth, and love" (Moulin Rouge's bohemian motto), the Duke's love, the soul he gives to Satine and the heart he opens to her, have been perverted into a pitiful parody that can lead only to either a humiliating silent retreat or turn into something ugly and dangerous.
The Duke rightfully protests "Not fair, not fair, not fair!", but in the end, there is no remedy for the Duke. He can only walk away from Satine a stunned, betrayed, hopeless outcast whose deepest dreams have been ripped away and replaced by the sad, lonely, loveless reality of his life . . . Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.
In their passionate love for Satine, Christian and the Duke are kindred. Neither is the better man, just an ultimate winner of true love and the pathetic loser of a false promise. Kudos to Richard Roxburgh for his subtle and empathetic portrayal of a man with a broken heart.