Friday, June 24, 2011

Concept of Redemption in Phantom of the Opera

Everyone takes something different away from the Phantom of the Opera. There are many themes buried in the story, which I think lends to its undying popularity. It continues from generation to generation, and the reason behind it must certainly be attributed to how it speaks to us individually in many areas of our lives.

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


Francesca said...

wow this is very insightful! I am so excited that I just found this blog :) I am a huge phantom fan and I especially love the messages one can take away from it. This is only my opinion but I believe that Christine kissing the phantom is out of surrender because I believe that she truly loves Raoul and she may have a sympathy for the phantom or feel a connection to him she does not love him. She is afraid of the phantom and she doesn't want to see Raoul killed and she seems to be sort of moved when Raoul begs her to let him be killed so she can be free. Shortly before she kisses the phantom she sings "Angel of Music you deceived me I gave my mind blindly" she is mad at the phantom for putting her in this situation but she kisses him anyway. That is why I think the kiss is out of surrender and she was basically just trying to save Raoul. It could be partially pity because right before the kiss she sings "pitiful creature of darkness what kind of life have you known god gave me courage to show you, you are not alone". I believe that her thought process could have been that she felt bad for the phantom and she wanted to save Raoul so she picked the phantom so the only one that really gets hurt is herself. This is a huge defining moment for Christine and we see how selfless and caring she can be. The phantom also sees this and he also sees that he has been tormenting her and he feels awful which is why he lets them go. I don't think the phantom gets any redemption because when he sings "its over now the music of the night" it means the one thing that ever made him happy in his life is over and gone. As sad as that is, I am still against the sequel because I like that Christine and Raoul ended up together because they were both ready to give their lives for the well being of the one they loved and they deserve a happy ending. thanks for reading :) I am so happy that somebody shares my appreciation for this amazing story.

Lvlinds said...

Hi Vicki and Francesca, I do believe in what Vicki says about Erik going back to his self isolation and just gave up. I also think that he knew in his heart that Christine really didn't love him, and then why did he try so much to win her love? I suppose he just hoped she would return it to him. I have also wondered why did he even fall in love with her? What was it about Christine that he connected with? There were so many other young girls in the Opera House. Why was Christine so special to him?
There was also something I realized and never thought of before. I saw Phantom Las Vegas last night and noticed that during the reprise of All I Ask of You, when Erik hears Christine and Raoul sing their words of love again in the distance, I have always thought that they were actually singing in the opera house but then I listened to a video review of the show and the reviewer said that they have always interpreted that particular scene is that Erik is actually hearing them sing the words in his head and that is why he covers his ears. Just a though!

Francesca said...

That is a very good question lvlinds and you still have me stumped. Why did the phantom pick Christine? It seems like it would make more sense for it to be Meg Giry or something but Christine seems a little random. And I love what you said about the All I Ask of You reprise being in the phantom's head! that is so sad! I love when the phantom covers his ears because it seems so childish and you stop seeing him as this crazy opera ghost for a minute and you see a child that has grown up all alone with nobody to love him.

Erik's Wig said...

Very insightful as always Vicki!

I, for one, will always firmly believe that Christine felt something akin to love for Erik. For me, it resonates true in every medium from the novel to the stage. However, I believe many factors contributed as to why the story ended as it did. But that's another blog in itself!

Regardless of what you believe that kiss to have meant, I think we can all firmly agree that it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of The Phantom's redemption. You can't forget that many of Erik's most regrettable transgressions can be traced back to the harshness of his existence. And for a lifetime of despair to dissolve away completely the moment her lips touched his....while it's very idealistic
sounding, more than likely, it simply paved the way for his redemption. I'd hope we can at least all agree upon that. I think where the division arises among phans is where that road takes him.

jackie said...

Hi! I know it's a bit late to comment on this, but I was going through your older posts and I thought I'd just give my two cents.

I completely understand how some fans want a sense of closure, which they didn't find in the original. But to answer your question about how fans who are satisfied with the original's ending rationalize it, it's because of the very thing you mention: sacrifice.

We have a guy who's never known love relinquish his one chance at happiness all for the woman he loves, even if it means he remains miserable for the rest of his life. That's the ultimate sacrifice right there. Forget the happy ending. It's this tragic ending, I think, that makes the story so beautiful, poignant, powerful and ultimately satisfying. I think if the story ended happily, it would have diminished Phantom's sacrifice and would not have had the same impact on me.

Where was the redemption, you ask? I don't see redemption here as moving on, finding a new love and living happily ever after. Phantom's redemption came when he made that gut-wrenching sacrifice, and we come to appreciate his gesture all the more because the cost for him to do so was unimaginable. Redemption doesn't mean a happy ending for Phantom. It means a happy ending for the other characters at the cost of his own happiness. He allows Raoul and Christine to sail away and live happily ever after, and because of this sacrifice, Phantom is redeemed. How many other erstwhile villains and anti-heroes have we seen make similar sacrifices, sometimes even losing their lives in the process? It hardly ever ends well for them, but it does for those on the receiving end of their sacrifice (Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind). I think that's what redemption in POTO is all about. Sacrifice = redemption.

Anyway, that's how some of us rationalize it. Hope that answers your curiosity. :)

jackie said...

Oh yeah, I just thought of a far simpler definition of redemption. Dunno why I didn't think of it sooner.

Redemption is when the bad guy or not-so-good guy does something profoundly good in the end.

There you go. ;)