The most famous cabaret in history, the Moulin Rouge has been the subject of many books, paintings, movies and musicals - birthplace of the Quadrille, the Cancan and home to a cast of outrageous dancers known as the Diamond Dogs. When the Moulin opened, Paris was a city of exquisite contradiction; art was both elevated and abused, pomp and excess ran hand in hand with poverty and hardship, and the heady elixir of personal freedom bred lifestyles that were often reckless and addictive. Drawn to Paris by the city's passion, a flame fuelled by the hearts of lovers and the souls of poets, Matthew and Nathalie tempt the fates as they seek love and destiny in the infamous cabaret...The Moulin Rouge.
As Paris awakes for another day, Matthew enters and is immediately robbed of his belongings by Gypsies. Nathalie is waiting for the other launderettes to arrive when she sees Matthew for the first time. As the couple dance together, the spark of love ignites. Zidler, the owner of the Moulin Rouge enters and everyone knows that he is the man who can take you from the streets to the spotlight, so the women dance for him, hoping to attract his attention. Nathalie out shines all the other girls so Zidler offers her a position at the Moulin Rouge! Nathalie says goodbye to her friends and Matthew, then leaves with Zidler. Toulouse arrives and sees Matthew sketching. Intrigued he asks to see Matthew’s work and critiques it rather harshly. Matthew, not knowing who Toulouse is, gets quite upset. Toulouse offers a paintbrush to Matthew and the dueling paint off scene begins.
Zidler brings Nathalie into a cold, dark and somewhat frightening rehearsal space, where she is told to wait before rehearsal begins. The other dancers are not impressed that Nathalie is there and try to intimidate her. La Goulue challenges Nathalie to a Cancan competition and at the end Nathalie is victorious. She wins Zidler’s approval and the tower dressing room.
Toulouse and Matthew are in front of the Moulin Rouge cabaret with their paintings. Toulouse invites Matthew to the cabaret for the evening but Matthew is broke and underdressed. Toulouse brings in tailors who transform Matthew into a gentleman in a tuxedo. After the first Moulin Rouge show, Nathalie sees Matthew and the two of them rekindle the spark from their first meeting. Nathalie takes Matthew away from the Moulin Rouge so they can be alone. Zidler notices that Nathalie is gone and becomes suspicious; after searching the Moulin Rouge he closes it down and leaves to find her.
As people are leaving the cabaret, Nathalie and Matthew are on their way to a bridge by the Eiffel Tower. Zidler comes searching for her, but Toulouse distracts him to help the couple escape to the bridge where they dance a romantic pas de deux.
Toulouse is painting while drinking absinthe, and as the painting continues we see a green fairy appear. She dances with Toulouse and inspires him to finish the painting.
Meanwhile, Nathalie is getting ready to meet Matthew at the Tango Café. She is happy and in love. Zidler has now become obsessed with Nathalie and does not want her to go out. He tries to seduce Nathalie and only Toulouse entering saves her. Zidler has no idea she is meeting Matthew at the Tango Café but follows and finds the couple together. Zidler threatens to kill Matthew so Nathalie leaves with him in an attempt to appease the tyrant and save Matthew from harm. But Matthew is left heartbroken and confused. He drinks absinthe with Toulouse and encounters the green fairies. After he wakes up, Toulouse creates a plan for Matthew to disguise himself as a waiter and get back into the cabaret.
At the show that evening, Matthew finds Nathalie and they try to escape through the mayhem of the Cancan. Zidler discovers them together and becomes enraged, stopping the show. He intends to kill Matthew, but Nathalie is mortally wounded instead. Matthew holds Nathalie as she takes her last breath.