There have been multiple literary and artistic movements that have swept the globe in the last 300 years. Many which have changed the way in which we perceive the world. One such movement has been toward so-called postmodernisms. What are postmodernisms, and how have the come to be defined through art and literature? In this essay, I will explore Luhrmann’s postmodern film Moulin Rouge in relation to the theories presented in Jameson’s “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” and to postmodernism itself. Through critical analysis of textual details, I will illustrate how various elements in the film complement and at times refute both the text and postmodernism as a whole. These elements include: pastiche, parody, citationality, double coding, irony, nostalgia mode, the role of multinational and corporate capitalism, and some paradoxical incongruities within the film concerning modernist and postmodernist paradigms.
For the purpose of this essay, Moulin Rouge is a postmodern work, despite its many quintessentially modern themes. This interpretation is dictated not only by the postmodern chronological definition, but also by the conceptual definition provided by Jameson (which is this papers context). He describes postmodernisms as direct reactions against the established movements of high modernisms (1961). On a broader spectrum, the film’s borders are highly ambiguous concerning modernism and postmodernism. In fact, the film is often both at the same time, which ultimately causes some incongruity between the film as “postmodernist” and Jameson’s postmodern definitions. I would go so far as to suggest that Moulin Rouge is a postmodern film about modernism, no doubt one of the great ironies of the film and of postmodernism itself.
One significant feature of postmodernism is pastiche, which plays a crucial role in Moulin Rouge. According to Jameson, pastiche is a mimicry or imitation tactic very closely related to but different from parody. “Pastiche is a blank parody, a parody that has lost its sense of humor”(1963). Whereas parody “capitalizes on the uniqueness of these styles and seizes on their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities to produce an imitation which mocks.” He argues that postmodernism is at least partially defined by the shift from parody to pastiche. This definitive shift leads to one of the many binaries present throughout the film, because I would argue that within the film a fair amount of parody also exists.
There are many examples of imitation or referentiality (pastiche, parody, citationality and self-reflexivity) throughout Moulin Rouge. In particular, a great deal of Jameson’s pastiche exists within the film, most notably in the beginning with the Sound of Music anthem. This is quite possibly the apotheosis of pastiche in the film because of its significant labeling of the film as a musical. The Sound of Music reference also invokes a high degree of nostalgia mode. The credits shown during the Sound of Music anthem spark a sense of nostalgia as well, a point touched on by Jameson as “always our first clue” (1966). Many of the movie’s citations are anachronistic, and gain their “power” through nostalgia mode. Luhrmann does a brilliant job of capturing the inner nostalgia of an extremely wide range of people, specifically the differences in generations and musical tastes. He may have gripped my father by citing “All You Need is Love,” by the Beatles or by the numerous references to Elton John’s “How Beautiful Life is When Your in the World.” He struck me by his use of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love),” both songs that were my teen hood anthems. If you were an alien and somehow not reeled in by one of these fabulous ballads, then he surely got you with either: Whitney Houston, Madonna, EnVogue or the Police. These songs in the form of pastiche “satisfy a deep (might I even say repressed?) longing to...
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