The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Gratuitous Phantom Babble

betareject and I stayed up far too late last night talking about The Phantom of the Opera, the book Phantom by Susan Kay, and some of the things that originally got talked about in the comments to this post, which contains spoilers for the movie. I am fascinated by how many fans -- women -- have told me that they wanted an ending in which Christine ended up with the Phantom, or how they would have chosen the Phantom themselves had they been her. Now, I completely understand why it would bother people that she ends up with Raoul, for reasons I stated previously. For me, Raoul is the Phantom Lite: many of the same character flaws and none of the charisma, eroticism or deep understanding of music as an art. That said, however, if Christine's only choices in the world are the Phantom and Raoul (both of whom she associates deeply with her father, which I find a little icky), I'm glad she went for the wealthy aristocrat who adores her and will at least apparently not try to stop her from singing, the way Prince Rainier apparently insisted that Grace Kelly stop making movies after she became Princess of Monaco.

So I understand that in Kay's book, which three people have now recommended to me, Christine does end up with the Phantom and ends up eventually dying for love of him. To me this is not a romantic ending and certainly not a better ending -- this is so typical of what happens to women too damn often in "romantic" literature, where they pay for their great passions with their lives and, worse, their other passions -- obviously Christine can't sing if she's dead. Her saving grace for me as a character is that she's an artist, who will make whatever sacrifice she deems necessary for her art, sort of like the Lady of Shalott: she speaks of the Phantom as her teacher and the man who inspires her voice long after she knows he's not an angel and he is a murderer. I like that she's a teenager in the film, rather than a grownup like all previous Christines I've seen onstage; it makes her naivete, her narrow focus and her selfishness easier to forgive. Does she react in a shallow manner when she finds out that her teacher and patron is hideous? Yes, but it doesn't help matters any that he goes on the attack the moment she removes his mask -- it's hard to tell whether she's recoiling from his ugliness or his screaming "Damn you!" and calling her names from the split second she sees his face. She says terrible things about what the Phantom looks like to Raoul later, but it's hard to say whether she's telling the truth about her perception or lying to Raoul and to herself. If she can deceive herself enough to believe that she's in love with Raoul at that point, she could certainly convince herself that it's the Phantom's ugliness she fears, rather than her own temptation.

Of course the Phantom is the hero of the musical and we're supposed to root for him. He has all the best music -- just like Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Eva Peron in Evita. I saw the latter when I was 15, apparently the same age a lot of people were first exposed to Phantom (being ancient by LJ standards, I was in college before that opened on Broadway). I will never forget sitting in the orchestra during "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" began, the point of which song is ostensibly to show how the people of Argentina were seduced by Eva, but the side effect of which is that the audience, sitting as an extension of the crowd below the balcony in the scene, undergo the same experience and if the show is done well, we're supposed to be just as seduced. All the political babble immediately afterward becomes promptly forgettable; we're there to see Eva, after all, like a Shakespearean tragic heroine, not to root against her. It's very similar with the Phantom; we're given excuses for his horrific behavior, while we're supposed to loathe and be disgusted with such relatively harmless beings as Carlotta, Andre and Fermin. They may be producing shitty operas, but the Phantom almost reminds me of Ayn Rand's Howard Roark, bringing down the house (literally) when he can't get the music produced according to his own vision. The Phantom and Christine are the real artists in the show, while everyone else (including Raoul) is a dilettante or a capitalist or both. And since Christine is an ingenue in every sense, the Phantom is the only one we can really trust with the opera and the passions it inspires; he gets it in a way no one else does, except perhaps Madame Giry but more on her later.

I need someone to explain to me outside of sheer eroticism why any woman would want Christine to end up with the Phantom if one is identifying with Christine as a woman and an artist, rather than if one is identifying with the Phantom (which as betareject pointed out to me makes so much more sense, as he's not only the smartest and most powerful character in the musical but also suffering the same fate as so many women who aren't born -- excuse me, who haven't Had A Little Work Done -- to look like Nicole Kidman and are therefore rejected as too ugly for society and for the careers and lovers they want). I still have a hard time with heroes who treat their heroines like crap, though, and even if, as he claims, he did it all for Christine, the Phantom does not treat her better than Raoul does. He isn't trying to liberate her voice and her sexuality for herself or for the artistic world, but to fulfill his own fantasies; it's never about her, no more than Raoul's search for a trophy wife is. They're so very similar to me -- less so in the movie where Raoul is closer to Christine's own age than her father's (they took out the line about her having been a gawkish girl since the London cast recording, though I think that may have been true when I last saw it staged as well). That's my objection to her with Raoul -- not that I wish she had ended up with a man who not only stalked her but attempted to maim and kill the competition and to shape a career for her not because it was her dream but because he wanted to hear her singing his songs.

I must admit I rather wanted Christine to get away from all of them, to become a star and have as many lovers as she wanted before settling down (or, if she really wanted Raoul because her life had had so little stability, then I imagine that after what she's learned and seen that he didn't get the lovely compliant girl he was expecting but a woman whose gravestone might have said "singer" as well as "wife and mother"). I wanted to see who she'd become without all these people pushing her around. With Raoul she might have had a chance for some independence -- he did not see her as "his voice," an extension of himself, in the way the Phantom did, and though perhaps if she chose him freely the Phantom would have stopped yanking her chains, I'm inclined to believe that someone whose entire life had been brutality and darkness would not forgive her for the first time he saw her laughing with another man. In the musical she asks if he's going to rape her -- "Am I now to be prey to your lust for flesh?" and instead of saying no, I would never, he says, "The fate that condemns me to wallow in blood has also denied me the joys of the flesh" -- in essence, "I wish I could but I can't"! My reaction is exactly like Christine's at that point: the tortured face holds no horror, it's his soul that's warped. So on rethinking, I rather like the ending. It's not as if I expect the teenage Christine to break free and take over the Opera Populaire. She has learned that she has this dark, erotic side and also that she can hold her own against any man, no longer passive, no longer willing to be the person whichever powerful man around her wants her to be.

All that said...the female character who intrigues me the most in the film, to my surprise, is Madame Giry. She rescues the Phantom in his youth, hides him, covers for him...then she offers up a girl whom she describes as almost like a daughter to him, knowing full well what manner of man as well as what manner of artist he is. Is she trying to help Christine? To protect her own daughter, who seems all to happy to be the pretty, sweet, unambitious dancer and chorus girl on track to end up a ballet mistress like her mother rather than a star? (Where is the Christine/Meg slash...oops did I say that?) The way Giry covers for the Phantom, the way she seems to have thrown Christine at him to protect her own daughter, seems interesting and fucked up to me. We get no backstory on her in the movie so all kinds of questions can be asked: who is Meg's father, how come Madame Giry is in charge of the girls in the opera dormitories and seems to have no more life outside the theatre than does the Phantom? And what's she looking for at the auction in the end that is also the beginning...is she buying souvenirs for herself of a long ago passion, or is she collecting for someone who dares not show his face? There is definitely material to be speculated upon there!

There are drawings of Gerard as the Phantom by Kim Schultz on her web page.
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