Handlingen av Moulin Rouge! äger rum 1899:
In the year 1900, a British writer suffering from depression named Christian (Ewan McGregor) begins writing on his typewriter (...). He explains how one year earlier, he moved to the Montmartre district of Paris to become a writer among members of the area's Bohemian movement.
När det gäller användningen av modern musik:
In the liner notes to the film's Special Edition DVD, Luhrmann writes that "[the] whole stylistic premise has been to decode what the Moulin Rouge was to the audiences of 1899 and express that same thrill and excitement in a way to which contemporary movie-goers can relate." With that in mind, the film takes well-known popular music, mostly drawn from the MTV Generation, and anachronizes it into a tale set in a turn-of-the-century Paris cabaret.