Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Phantom of the Opera II

The Phantom of the Opera Part II—Warning: Spoiler

Please read the previous post first. Thanks.

Why millions of women fell in love with the Phantom…based on the movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Many people disliked the phantom character. Let’s face it, he was a sly, deceitful murderer. He was disfigured and as mean as a hornet with his tail stuck in a screen door. He was also a talented musician and composer. He lived for his music. Until, he fell in-love with Christine. She was half his age, and he came to her as (what she thought of) as The Angel of Music that her father promised to send her from Heaven, when she was a child. (And even if you hated the Phantom, you must admit the performance given by Gerard Butler was superb. Thank you, Gerry!)

Later in the story, the Phantom refers to himself as The Angel in Hell. He was not an angel from Hell—he felt he was in Hell, having suffered all his life for the congenital deformity of his face, which nowadays we could easily correct with modern medical science. In those days, people perhaps believed that God was punishing the mother or the child for something they had “done.” Disfigurements were seen as a negative indication of a defective soul or even being “owned by the devil.” Even today, we believe those who don’t “fit-in” deserve to be teased and/or scorned for things that are obviously not of their own doing. This would echo even racial bias and prejudices that have plagued mankind for most of its existence, hatred of people because of their appearance, i.e., skin color.

The Phantom was an object of fear and hatred just because of his looks. In fiction, stress of physical appearance is indicative of a superficial value system—those who care more for appearances are, if nothing more, missing out on a deeper meaning of life, at least until they get their “Aha!’s.”

The Phantom felt unloved and unwanted, had the passionate soul of a musician, and the innate intelligence and creativity to make him a great composer. In the movie, we are shown a segment of his childhood that attempted to explain a few things, but could easily have been left out of the movie, especially since it does not appear in the original novel by Gaston Leroux. I urge those who see the movie, to ignore this scene if possible, it is not in the screenplay/musical either. A good read about the Phantom's life is Phantom by Susan Kaye.

As I said, Christine thought he was the angel of music, so she took voice lessons from the Phantom, trusting him, though never seeing him, and loving him because she thought her Father sent him (prior to the opening of the movie.) She shares the Phantom’s love of music, which bonds them together. They both have sensitive, artistic souls. (And raging hormones, at least in the movie.)

At the beginning of the movie Christine is a capable singer without an opportunity to show off her talents, actually being in the chorus line as a background dancer, or bit player. The Phantom, because of selfish reasons, plots to have her take center stage as a star. One of the lyricsis Christine singing, “I am the mask you wear,” and the Phantom singing in reply, “It’s ME they hear.” He wants his talents displayed in Christine.

At some point, the Phantom falls madly in-love with his “creation.” Here we have the Pygmalion theme…the artist Pygmalion falls in love with the statue he created in the ancient Greek myth. (This is also the theme of My Fair Lady the musical, too.)

However, as a recluse who hates people as much as they hate him, the phantom suffers from a selfish, possessive, jealous, domineering type of love. In fact, he hasn’t got a clue how to love someone, having never been loved himself. He attempts to control Christine. When the Viscount Raoul, the patron of the opera house, makes his appearance in the story as the good-looking, young, blond tenor, the phantom sings, “He was bound to love you, when he heard you sing,” he realizes that in making Christine’s singing so beautiful, he has basically given her to the Viscount to love. This is just one of the ironies that the Phantom realizes too late for his own salvation.

It is interesting to note that when the Phantom is wearing his mask, he is suave, handsome, elegant, powerful, talented and appears to be have poise and self-esteem. He seems to get a kick out of scaring people, which boosts his own arrogance. (He actually kills a couple of people in cold-blood, unemotionally, in the story, so watch out!) However, when his mask is removed, he reverts back to an almost childish stage of life, a pathetic victim displaying abject misery or overwhelming rage—both extremes of emotion. This would echo the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde symbolism, which has also been done in numerous plays and movies since Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote it. That book was undoubtedly based on a more ancient theme itself.

When the Phantom realizes he's lost Christine to Raoul, he declares “war” on both of them. But his helpless longing and distorted love for Christine will not be eradicated by intention. It basically becomes his downfall. Not because he continues with the "war" but recause his love cannot be escaped…well, let me explain further.

When he forces Christine and the rest of the opera house patrons/staff to put on his opera Don Juan Triumphant, he’s still under the illusion that he's in control of the situation—even though he knows deep inside that he's lost it and/or never really had control over anything. He has the power that he can “create” with fear--and we all know that people (especially in dramas) overcome fear as unfounded and illusory. We all know the tale of the softhearted monster being nothing more than a fake, for example in the Wizard of Oz.

In Don Juan, the Phantom hears Christine singing words of love that he places in her mouth as song lyrics he knows they’re insincere. At this point, Christine has lost all respect for him, knows he's a serious deceiver, murderer, and controlling, over-bearing monster of a person. She's afraid to get close enough to him to allow the authorities to capture him, but does it anyway because she's a pawn in in the opera's and authorities' hands, as well as in the Phantom’s hands. All she wants to do, as many a maiden has desired for eons, is to get out of the spotlight and get married and live happily ever after. This is the theme of nearly every fairy tale ever written.

So, in the middle of this “play within a play” the Phantom’s real desire comes out at the end of his duet with Christine--he sings to her the love song that Raoul sang to her earlier in the story—only his words transmit his true desperation. Instead of singing the words Raoul sang to her about wanting to love her, protect and save her from her solitude…the Phantom sings of his own wild desire for her to love him, be with him, and save him from his solitude. Cleaver reversal by the lyricist!!!

On the verge of being powerfully attracted to him again (which we know is real since the Raoul has tears in his eyes while he watches them,) Christine snatches off the Phantom's mask and reveals his true appearance to the entire opera house. The Phantom was lost in his own fantasy--the delusion that there is a future possible for him and Christine together. He blames her for betraying him, hurt & cut to the quick.

Continued in Phantom of the Opera III. Next blog

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