Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Phantom in LND

“Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering..."


Let me start this post with a statement. I’m not here to debate the rights or wrongs of the story or to discuss how it could have been written differently. More than anyone, I’m quite aware of the intense opinions in the Phantom community regarding Love Never Dies. My purpose here is to reflect on the story, offer up thoughts, and give you a ride on the ferris wheel to enhance the view. Take from my articles whatever you wish, learn lessons if there are any, and find your own interpretation. If anything, I hope you'll enjoy the ride ahead free of charge.

The Phantom in Love Never Dies

The Phantom of the Opera is now Mr. Y. He’s a mystery to the normal crowd. No longer the Opera Ghost, but a Myster-Y, who no one has seen according to the reporters that greet the de Chagny’s at the dock. So who is this man? Well, to look at the present Mr. Y, one must refer back to the Phantom who haunted the Opera Populaire.

I find it very interesting how easily fans accept the Phantom in the first version as a psychopathic murderer who kills without thought, obsesses over a woman, kidnaps her, keeps her in bondage, and blackmails her by threatening to kill Raoul. We easily forgave his transgressions in that version, didn't we? We cheered when Christine showed him the ounce of compassion he so desperately needed and appeared redeemed by love or so we thought. If you haven’t read my earlier posts about Erik (His Humanity), Opera Ghost (His Persona), and Phantom (The Spectral Shade), I encourage you to do so in order to remind yourself of the original man behind the mask as you compare the new one now living in New York.

Ten years have past. As most of you realize by now, the story in Webber’s musical continued through the song Beneath the Moonless Sky. Christine returns, finds the Phantom, and is sorrowful over her choice. As some of you cringe over the storyline and as some of you have accepted, Christine and the Phantom finally cross that "Point of No Return" they so passionately sung the day before laced with desire and seduction. It was definitely a moment of no "thought of right or wrong," as Christine spoke before, and a child is conceived. As the song further reveals, the Phantom leaves the next morning ashamed of what he has done (or is, as one of the recent comments interprets below) before Christine awakens to swear her love and desire to remain with him.

He runs away to New York, returns to his roots doing freak shows. Finally he builds a life at Coney Island, and we see him 10 years later bemoaning his useless existence without Christine. He’s depressed, wishes to die, and has no reason to live. He’s made a new likeness of Christine to replace the one in the lair – the obsession continues. Unable to let go of the past, he’s stuck in ancient history but refuses to admit he’s got a problem. He’s blind to the pain of those around him, self-centered, angry, and a brooding man hell-bent on hearing Christine sing one more time.

The great manipulator is at work again and woos Christine to New York by offering an enormous amount of money to get what he latter terms “as mine.” The master hasn’t changed much. He’s still short-tempered and insanely driven over his music that now frustrates him because Christine isn’t there to sing his creations. His hands still have the tendency to wrap around the throats of others and threaten strangulation throughout the story. Old habits are hard to break.

The Phantom you’ve grown to love is now a menacing broken-hearted shell of a man carrying an unhealthy obsession over Christine Daae once again. Sigh. What’s wrong with this guy? Didn’t he learn a thing in the lair? How come he hasn’t grown and changed? Why can’t he let the past die and move on? So much for redemption at the kiss of Christine’s lips and the culmination of their passions making them one. And to top it off, he really has a warped sense of “beauty” in his new residence to say the least. Where has it all gone wrong? What must the dude learn to grow into normalcy?

A few key things happen in the story that are turning points to move the Phantom along on the journey he must take. When Christine and the Phantom reunite for the first time, her answer is perhaps not the one he wishes to hear. She declares there is “no now” for either of them and that they must live with their choices. Perhaps at that point he would have accepted it, until another turning point – he discovers that Gustav is his son. The child, however, cries “horrible” when he sees his father’s face, and once again the Phantom is broken as he realizes not even his own flesh and blood can give him an ounce of compassion.

Like most emotional moments in our lives, he's faced with choices. He decides that he will give anything to his son and at the same time, he relentlessly pursues Christine by making a diabolical bet playing on Raoul’s weaknesses. Poor Christine hasn’t a clue either. It’s that obsessive love returned - what he cannot have willingly, he will take by other means.

What is it going to take to catapult this man into maturity? Perhaps, he just needs a little more time and the right event to move him along to that end. Let's face it, some of us are a bit more dense when it comes to learning. Is it the pain of our past that shackles us to old behaviors? Does the Phantom after his long existence of pain and rejection deserve just a little more time to put the pieces together? It appears he's going to have to walk through the fire in order to be purified and refined. That's the tragedy of it all, isn't it, that human misery is what often brings us to lasting change.

After all his trickery to gain Christine, she sings for him and Raoul leaves losing the bet. The Phantom knows what has happened and slyly stands quiet as she reads Raoul’s departing note – showing no remorse and keeping secret the reason why Raoul has gone. He’s won the hand.

Well, as you all know, poor Christine is shot by Meg. The Phantom caresses her in his arms and their last kiss happens as life drains from her body. All his desires and obsession have just died in his arms. The woman he has loved his entire life is gone and now all that is left is one thing – a son.

Where does he go from here? A boy once terrified of his father, looks once again upon that face he cried earlier as "horrible" and now shows unconditional love and acceptance. He embraces the beauty underneath – his father. It takes a while before the Phantom is able to embrace his son in return, but finally he does and the curtain comes down.

The story has ended. It’s a tragedy indeed that Christine is gone. The two men who fought over her their entire lives have both left empty handed. Did either of them really deserve her?

What now? What do you think happens to the Phantom beyond this point? His obsession lies dead a few feet away. His son has his arms wrapped tightly around his body. Does the man have the capacity to be a father? After all, the Phantom had no father figure and was rejected by his mother. Will being a parent finally teach him sacrificial love? Instead of Christine, perhaps it's really a child of 10 that will finally reach the heart of this broken man bringing the final redemption.

Interesting to note the name Gustav means “the staff of gods.” Could it be that Gustav is the staff that will lead our dear Phantom to learn the true meaning of sacrificial love? If you've never been a parent, I can tell you it's a role where sacrifice and love consumes your life and never dies!

So how’s the view from your seat on the ferris wheel? Do you see anything different now? Formed any new opinions? Has the Phantom really changed in Love Never Dies from the original or is a still a man brought to a point of redemption but by a child this time? Sometimes experience isn't enough to change us - a mere kiss doesn't do the trick - but learning to live and love in action is what brings lasting change.

My prodding has begun, and I hope you'll see the beauty underneath.

The Phantom’s Student


Swansong said...

Great post, Vicki! I never thought that kiss in in the final lair scene would have the power to truly change the Phantom. A major turning point in one's life is just that...the point where you turn from what was before, but it can't stop there. You must turn toward something and begin the journey. I have always believed that in the Phantom's case, his redemption was begun by Christine's act of unselfish love, but from there, the Phantom himself would have to make the steps toward his own reformation.

His illness in the original is much deeper than a deformed face, and for a man whose view of the world is so distorted, I believe it would be a battle to truly change. It would not happen overnight. In this regard, I am interested in how LND deals with the Phantom's character. As you point out, just because he now lives above ground and can come and go as he pleases on Coney, this does not mean he has let go of his controlling and selfish ways.

Your analysis of LND's story has made me more appreciative of what Andrew is trying to do here. Thank you. Look forward to more!


Rob said...

You've made an assertion here that I've observed in almost every review of LND, and I'm curious as to why so many critics and viewers seem to be drawing this conclusion.

You state that:

"...the story...continued the next day through the song Beneath the Moonless Sky. Christine returns, finds the Phantom, and is sorrowful over her choice."

I can find nothing in the libretto or in commentary from ALW to indicate that Christine sought out the Phantom on the day after the end of the original show. The song "Beneath a Moonless Sky" simply states that she went looking for him on the night before her wedding to Raoul, but there is no indication that the wedding took place the following day:

Phantom: "Oh Christine, my Christine in that time that the world thought me dead
My Christine, on that night just before you were wed
Oh Christine, you came and found where I hid"

Given the events that transpired at the end of PotO, it's difficult to imagine that the wedding would've taken place within 24 hours (can you imagine getting up the morning after all of that and running off to the church?). Neither story actually mentions a wedding date, and it seems rather more likely that this would've taken place at least a few days after, if not weeks or even months. In fact, Christine's lyrics in "Beneath a Moonless Sky" suggest that this is not the first time they've see each other since the end of PotO:

Christine: "I stole to your side, to tell you I must go"

If the last time she saw the Phantom was when she and Raoul left his lair in the boat, for what possible reason would she now feel compelled to seek him out to tell him that she "must go"? If the wedding took place the next day, hadn't she just made it pretty clear that she was going when she gave him back the ring and fled with Raoul?

You also state that:

"As the song further reveals, the Phantom leaves the next morning ashamed of what he has done...".

According to the libretto, he does not leave out of shame for what he has done, but rather out of fear that she will once again reject him in the light of day, as she has before:

Phantom: "And when it was done, before the sun could rise
ashamed of what I was, afraid to see your eyes"

The suggestion of the title "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and the accompanying lyrics is that their night of passion resulted from the fact that the evening was particularly dark, allowing Christine to see only what he was on the inside:

Christine: "And blind in the dark, as soul gazed into soul
I looked into your heart and saw you pure and whole"

In closing, let me thank you for avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of jumping on the hate wagon for LND. While I will concede that there are occasional lyric instances that stray from the more poetic feel of the original show's libretto, ALW's music nonetheless carries this show to similar emotional heights. The score is nothing short of glorious, and while it would've been too contrived for the Phantom and Christine to "live happily ever after", it's nice to know that he finally finds love and a kindred spirit in his own son.

Vicki Hopkins said...

Thanks for your comments. I see somewhat in the last mention about shame...ashamed of what I was...meaning too the sexual act that he and Christine had just shared together - perhaps ashamed of taking her out of wedlock...afraid to see her eyes...perhaps afraid to see her reaction to what had transpired between them the morning after and not necessarily his face.

The wedding matter, of course, is all speculation. I like your take on it as well. You could look at it this way too that perhaps Raoul thought the Phantom would be captured that night they set the trap during the Point of No Return, and they were scheduled to marry the next day or two. He would have been freed of the Phantom then, but little did he know it would play out as it did with Christine's capture. They had been engaged for three months before that time. I guess, it can be looked at in various ways but I love to hear what others think. It's one of those gray areas we all get to write our interpretations.

Connie said...

Excellent post, Vicki. I have to agree with Rob on his points. I believe time had passed before Moonless Night. Raoul and Christine had much much to deep into the Phantom's opera and how to capture him to make specific future plans. Whether she had seen Erik again or simply communicated with him through Madam Giry, she was aware of how to find him. Her confused feelings towards him (IMO- she was in love with him but rejected the feelings so completely that she was unaware of them)led her to see him one last time as a single woman. "To tell him I must go was merely the excuse she gave herself.

The dark was far more freeing for Erik than Christine. He "forgot to be shy" and was free to seduce her with words, music, and touch, without being distracted by his looks. Christine had already accepted his physical looks, but they reminded her of the twistedness inside him. As they talked in the dark, she had no reminders of his twisted soul. Time stopped for them both and they only knew NOW and who they were to each other.
In the morning, thelove they had made and the soul-sharing they experienced removed all her fears. She now only saw the beauty underneath; not the unhealed scars on his soul.

On the other hand, Erik was still fully aware of both inside and outside scars. As he was unable to trust anyone, he certainly couldn't trust Christine to look past those scars in the cold light of day. Wanting to preserve the perfect memory of the night without shades of avoidance or worst yet, pity, fron his love, he ran. It was not due to shame about what he or they had done. Rather it was still shame over who he was.
IMO, the wedding did not take place for 2-4 weeks later. Perhaps Christine faked an illness while working through her feelings. She would have taken a little time to attempt to find him again. Having decided that he was her love, she would not have given up so easily. But, she would not so quickly give up on Raoul either. She did love him as well, just not with the mature, permanent kind of love she felt for Erik. When she couldn't find Erik, vaughly suspected that she was pregnant, She quickly married raoul and tried her hardest to be a good wife to him.

I beleive this because she would not be so sure that Gustave was Erik's child unless there was a significant passage of time between conception opportunities with the two men.

Just my thoughts!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your complete post as all yours Vicki, I hope to be able to go soon to London and enjoy this great play!