According to Baz Luhrmann there are a few general guidelines for the films in his Red Curtain Trilogy. One of these guidelines is a prominent motif designed to individualize and progress the films (dancing in Strictly Ballroom (1992), poetry/language in Romeo + Juliet (1996), and singing in Moulin Rouge! (2001). Additionally, the reality depicted in the films is “reel” not “real,” meaning the continuity of time and authenticity of events is often disregarded in each for cinematic effect. Through this guideline Luhrmann experiments with cutting and cross-cutting, pacing, as well as absurdity and surrealism. And, lastly, the plots of the films must be simple and the audience must understand how the film will end from the establishing/opening sequence. This last guideline is, perhaps, most significant to the trilogy as a whole.
During the 1980s and 1990s in America the “choose your own adventure” children’s books were popular on so many children’s bookshelves. In this particular style of fiction the plots are always simple and straightforward, yet the reader makes a decision(s) as to where the story will go by following the book’s options. (In other words, after a certain amount of pages, readers must select which page they want to continue the story on; each option alters the adventure.) Each story begins the same and contains the same protagonist(s), even though elements of the plot will vary. With The Red Curtain Trilogy, Baz Luhrmann creates, in part, a cinematic version of the “choose your own adventure” style.
Like the popular children’s books, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! are the exact same narrative, only the details and endings of each are different. Luhrmann sets up one narrative and manipulates how the story could end (selects different page numbers, if you will) to create three separate films. Concisely, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! are all about unlikely couples who fall madly in love. Although their families and society try to pull them apart, the lovers cannot be broken up. The pairs must conceal their feelings from the world and willingly sacrifice everything to be together. Yes, each film incorporates its own motifs and details to differentiate, however this basic plotline is always the same.
Just as the reader of the adventure books must make a decision as to which direction the book will go, Luhrmann makes a series (literally) of decisions that all center on three different endings for the same narrative about the lovers: 1) with the lovers living happily ever after, 2) with the lovers dying, and 3) with one lover dying, leaving the other to distraught.