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In the novel, To Dance with the White dog, Terry Kay crafts a love story about Sam Peek and his wife Cora, that seems to extend beyond the grave in the form of a white dog. At the same time, the film Moulin Rouge is a fast paced, tensely dramatic, love triangle between Christian, the poor writer, Satine, the courtesan that everyone fancies, and the Duke, who has the money to transform the Moulin Rouge into a theatre with real merit. Both movies center on the main theme of love but take two different stands on that love. While Satine is unable to concentrate solely on a single relationship, Sam Peek is able to focus solely on the love of his life, Cora.
In To Dance with the White Dog, there are several instances that show Sam's devotion and unchanging love for Cora. When Sam writes in his journal, at the beginning of the novel, "Today my wife died. We were married 57 good years" (Kay 9). Sam was completely devoted to his wife for over half a century and even after her death with his devotion to White Dog, who he perceived to be his deceased wife watching over him. Even though Satine was unable to pursue her love for Christian due to her death, her ambiguity towards her two suitors makes the viewer wonder if she could be as devoted to one love as Sam is devoted to his wife.
A prime example of Sam's enduring fidelity is when he goes to his wife's grave, "[...] He took the hoe and cut away at the weeds, balancing on his walker, until the plot was clean" (Kay 42). No matter what his circumstance, Sam is going to do what he can for his wife, even if it is simply taking care of his wife's grave. Christian does something similar to this by writing Satine's and his story, so that the world would know about their love. The love is there, but the audience is unable to see if Satine and Christian's love would last as long as Sam and Cora's due to Satine's untimely death at the end of the film.
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One of the most obvious moments of Satine's inability to focus on a single love comes just after she meets Christian and he sings her his song, written and originally sung by Elton John. When the Duke comes to see her, while trying to allow Christian to escape, she sings to the Duke Christian's song. This does not seem to be the same declaration of love but in a sense, Satine is still courting the Duke, the same way Christian is courting her. In turn, Satine may have deeper feelings for Christian but that is unable to stop her desire to become a real actress and never have to work at the Moulin Rouge again. The audience within the movie may have problems understanding this considering the fact that Satine is a courtesan and thus her love is for the highest bidder, as well as the fact that the Duke can make her dreams come true and thus could influence her to sacrifice her love for her dreams.
Also, in the scene where Satine gives into the Duke's wooing and goes on a picnic with him, Christian accompanies them under the guise of much work to do on the play. The scene shows the Duke oblivious to Satine and Christian's loving looks towards one another. Soon thereafter, the Duke turns to Satine and she pulls away from Christian and becomes enthralled with the Duke. Satine is unable to separate her ambition and her possible career as an actress from her love. The majority of the movie depicts Satine juggling the two men who each hold a possible future. Where Sam only juggles the thoughts of his wife and how much he loves and misses her now that she is gone.
Satine has deeper motives for her behavior than love. Satine is essentially a prostitute and in her line of work, love is not allowed. Therefore she is able to be an astounding actress and fool Christian into believing she does not love him when his life is in danger. It was the ulterior motive of becoming and actress and knowing that she would die soon, not her love, that prompts Satine to play the part so well. Satine still goes to the Duke and persuades him to continue funding the play and to keep the lovers ending. Even thought Satine pushes Christian away, she is still able to do her job and entice the Duke. The act she puts on, is her, fueled by her fear for Christian's life and because she is torn, she is fueled to go to the Duke to save the Moulin Rouge. She is ultimately unable to focus on or pursue a single love in her life.
Essentially Satine is pulled between two loves, her ambition and her love for Christian. Sam Peek is able to focus solely on his wife and the love filled life they shared for fifty-seven years and after her death, the love he has for White Dog who is supposedly Cora on Earth again to watch over Sam. While Satine may love Christian, she is unable to devote herself solely to him, because not only is she promised to the Duke already, but also the fate of the Moulin Rouge and her life hangs in the balance. While Sam's life doesn't hang in the balance due to his love, his life is slightly diminished after Cora's death and being under his children's constant watchful eyes. Sam and Satine are similar in the fact that they are both offered the ultimate love. Although different, their loves are similar and both have the potential of being life lasting.
The difference is that Sam Peek embraces his love and Satine puts seemingly more important matters before her love.
Kay, Terry. To Dance With The White Dog. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.
Moulin Rouge. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Twentieth Century Fox, 2001.