Some general themes we often relate to are:
- The hurt of unrequited love
- The need to hide behind our symbolic masks to veil our inward ugliness
- The need for acceptance and unconditional love
- The need to be forgiven for the evils of our past
- The need to be seen and wanted in order to save us from our loneliness and isolation
No doubt the list can go on and on. However, one theme that many take away from the story is the concept of redemption that plays out in the final lair scene. That theme is often prevalent with those of religious beliefs, because they see in the story analogies that relate to their ideals. Perhaps it's the salvation they wish the Phantom to experience, who once murdered, tortured, and kidnapped others. How he receives that salvation comes through the realization that if one truly loves, one lays down their life for another.
I believe that is part of the theme that some individuals attempt to hang onto in regards to the original, and why the sequel bothers them. It infers that after that kiss in the lair, the Phantom wasn't really redeemed after all or was he? His parting words at the end are not one of praise that he's been saved. Rather he cries:
"Forget me; forget this; leave me alone; take the boat, swear to never to tell of the secret you know of the angel in hell. . ."
Those words tell me he wishes to do one thing, and that is to sink back into isolation and obscurity, because he still believes he's an angel of hell and not a redeemed angel of heaven.
I find it interesting how we all want to save the man from his pitiful life. Forget Raoul who has it all - the riches, the good looks, and the girl. We love the underdog, in spite of his dark tendencies and many sins. He needs fixing. Someone should rescue him. Let's all give him a kiss, and show him that he can be loved. We hate the thought that his isolation remains, and we want to pull him out of the dark lair and bring him into the light.
The theme of redemption is certainly there, but redemption can often be a process that is fully realized after a significant event happens in our life. Throw away all the books you've read and the recent stage sequel. People cry, Phantom Needs No Sequel! But are you really satisfied with the ending? How do you come to terms with his life after he disappears through the chair? Do you really think that experience instantly changed him, and he lived a happy life afterward? Was he suddenly healed from Christine's kiss or was he still a broken man having lost the one person he loved more than life? It's an interesting question to ponder, and I'll be honest that I'm often curious as to how people rationalize what we are left with at the end of the stage version.
I think that if he really learned anything in the lair scene, it was the pain of sacrifice. He learned the meaning of unconditional love by watching two people he harmed display the act in front of him. We could spend plenty of time analyzing what was really behind Christine's kiss. Was it pity? Was it coerced? Was it surrender? Was it love? Whatever it was, it was that pivotal act that shook the Phantom to the core and became a turning point in his life. However, I don't believe that incident was the cure all of what ailed the Phantom. He was still a man in isolation. He was a man who experienced profound loss having loved another. He was still hounded down by everyone, who showed him no compassion and wanted him dead. If that's the case, then where was the redemption?
Redemption can be an instantaneous experience, but it can also be a process. Whether we like the plot of Love Never Dies or not, it does have a purpose in the lives of some fans. It brings closure. I see it as the end of the process or his journey. He's slow to learn. The obsession that he was never able to get over came to end. Often, things need to be taken away from us so we can finally change and grow. He no longer has Christine, but he now has the responsibility of fatherhood. Will he finally learn from that experience and find the culmination of his redemption in the end? Perhaps the unconditional love will be given to him by a child rather than a woman, and he will learn for himself the concept of laying your life down for another. Not what we had pictured, but it will serve a purpose.
In any case, if you want the story to have a fulfilling ending and you wish for the theme of redemption to remain, you must give to the Phantom some story in your mind that leads him down that ultimate path. Disappearing into the chair leaves for me a hollow ending. God knows, I had to write my own book to satisfy what I pictured for him the remainder of his life. Countless others have written stories as well to satisfy their cravings to close the story one way or the other.
It's obvious that some fans (and I know - not all) do find that closure in the current sequel by Webber. Apparently, it satisfies their questions. If you are one of those individuals who didn't need a sequel to satisfy your curiosity regarding the Phantom's ultimate redemption, that's great. No doubt you've figured that out for yourself. However, there are those that are still searching for the answer to what's beyond the back of that chair and the mask that's left behind. Right or wrong, it's just the way it is.
As for me, I see the concept of redemption in this story as a process and a journey, and not one that came to completion at the end of a kiss. Frankly, I think that would have been too easy. Change comes through growth, and growth comes through experience. The Phantom up to that point had neither.
Vicki aka The Phantom's Student