Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Spectral regrets

I've just been rewatching Andrew Lloyd Webber's adaptation of Gaston Leroux's "Phantom of the Opera". I absolutely love it, and not just because Emmy Rossum is cute - I'm uncultured enough to really enjoy the music.

There are a couple of things that just piss me off, though. Firstly, in the final showdown between the Phantom, Christine and Raoul, Christine utters the couplet:

Pitiful creature of darkness
What kind of life have you known?
God gave me courage to show you
You are not alone!

I just can't stop my inner atheist kicking in at this point. As a child, the Phantom was sold to a circus by his parents, who were disgusted by his deformity. A few scenes earlier we saw the young Phantom, dressed only in loincloth and a sack for a mask, clutching his stuffed toy monkey as a full-grown man brutally beat him to the delight of a jeering audience. He only got away by killing his "trainer", and since then he hasn't been able to show his face (literally). Where was God all this time?

Decades later, someone deigns to show him affection, even if only on the level of "aww, poor puppy". And suddenly God gets the credit? WTF?

I realise I'm taking this way too seriously - it's a frickin' musical - but I see the same phenomenon all the time. "A plane crashed, 127 people and a dog were killed, but one child survived with third-degree burns - what a miracle!" This is confirmation bias taken to a ludicrous extreme.

More seriously, I think the characters are painfully two-dimensional, which is tragic given they have so much potential. Raoul is played as just a well-spoken variant of the classic brainless hunk of meat. I personally lack meat, voice control and striking good looks, so this isn't exactly a persona I can relate to. They could at least have given him a couple of interesting flaws.

Christine is basically just the servant of whatever plot twist comes her way. The only slight twist is her ambivalence over the Phantom, which in the film just comes across as a mild Electra complex.

The Phantom at least gives some impression of being interesting - in the first hour there's a huge amount of uncertainty as to whether he's an evil manipulative bastard or a tragic blighted hero. Sadly, the second hour can basically be summarised as "yup, he's a bastard". This is a bit of an anticlimax, and completely destroys the most sympathetic character in the film. They could have drawn the ambiguity out so much better.

I'm especially sensitive to the Phantom's plight after reading the excellent books "Banewreaker" and "Godslayer" by Jacqueline Carey. If even a Sauron-style Dark Lord can be shown in a more noble light, what could Webber have made of Leroux's antihero?

Given my mild obsession with this dramatisation, I definitely need to check out the original book. I've currently got three separate academic courses to revise for, but once I've finished them I'll have to relearn my French and start getting genial with Gaston.

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