"If you draw back in fear from this film, you will surely regret it."
Many have tried, but no movie has as sympathetically and effectively humanized Evil as Joel Schumacher's 2004 film depiction of The Phantom of the Opera. To humanize a villain is a righteous thing--engendering understanding where there once was confusion and repulsion. Not only does The Phantom of the Opera inspire tears for a fallen angel, but it explains the necessity for darkness, itself--the kind of darkness that lends meaning to art and passion to love.
There have been several stage and film interpretations of Gaston Leroux' 1909 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra; the most illustrious being Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 Broadway musical. Schumaker's 2004 film takes Webber's musical beyond the boundaries of the stage to an elaborate set with big-screen actors and state-of-the-art cinematography and effects. The film seems to purposefully, however, seek to maintain the subtle reminder of its theatrical derivation by making the Phantom's lair look more like the inside of a Disney water ride than a real cave; the cemetery look more like a really fine Halloween display than a true burial ground. The slightly counterfeit appearance of the set also helps to sustain the dream-like mood of the film, while providing a safe arena for the bizarre tale.
The Phantom of the Opera is, above all else, a story of the Phantom's patient and lonely enchantment of Parisian opera singer Christine Daaé. From the shadows of the opera house, where he can conceal his partial disfigurement, the Phantom lulls Christine with music as she lights candles for her deceased father and as she dreams at night. He trains her to sing and expects love and loyalty in return. Ultimately, Christine must choose whether to let herself become wholly possessed by the dark, passionate world of the Phantom, the opera house and their music; or run away with her innocent, well-meaning childhood friend and suitor, Raoul. The Phantom will do anything, including murder, to preserve the artful sanctity of 'his' opera house and 'his' protégée. At birth, he was cursed to a world of darkness. Not because he had sinned, but because of his disfigured face the world hated him. The Phantom, with the "pleading eyes that both threaten and adore," who "burns in hell, but secretly, secretly, yearns for heaven," lived only for music and for Christine.
The ruggedly handsome actor, Gerard Butler, was perfectly cast as the Phantom. Though Butler doesn't have a strong operatic voice, his native Scottish accent added a measure of drama to the songs, which comprise most of the film. Butler's raspy growling of the line "the Phantom of the Opera is there--inside your mind" is the perfect juxtaposition to Christine's smooth, clean voice in the following line: "Those who have seen your face draw back in fear ..." The flawless, feminine voice and appearance of Emmy Rossum, the actress cast to play Christine, help to accentuate the character's inherent incorruptibility. From time to time, however, Rossum successfully radiates enough dark desire, especially in the song "Point of No Return," to keep Christine on the brink of descent.
Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, comes off as being even more inexperienced than Christine. Though Raoul is a nice guy, up against a conflicted, vengeful murderer, somehow he maintains underdog status throughout the film. This is the same phenomenon caused by Gone with the Wind, where audiences secretly side with the fiery Scarlett over the saintly Melanie. Perhaps, in the case of Raoul, his lack of viewer support can be traced to his several impotent attempts to 'rescue' Christine from the Phantom: Once, he tells her the Phantom can't find her, yet the Phantom's in earshot; another time, he leaves Christine with the Phantom to go get his sword; and to top it off, he watches the Phantom publicly romance Christine and either doesn't realize who he is, or doesn't do anything to stop him.
Though not involved in the development of the theme, Minnie Driver's performance as the Spanish opera singer Carlotta deserves an honorable mention. Carlotta, the opera singer who is replaced by Christine, is a role that directors love to reinvent. In the 2004 film, Driver personified Carlotta as the most overbearing prima donna imaginable. When on the screen, Driver certainly commands the audience's attention. Many people don't realize this, however, but Driver's singing voice was dubbed by opera singer Margaret Preece, who uses a shrill pitch and a warbling vibrato to sing songs such as "Think of Me" and "Masquerade." Minnie Driver sang Webber's "Learn to Be Lonely," which plays during the credits. Sadly, none of the other actors' performances were incredibly memorable.
The film ends with a mysterious occurrence that I'll leave untouched; but an even bigger mystery, I cannot avoid. The mystery under investigation is Madame Giry's line, "Raise your hands to the level of your eye," spoken several times as a warning to those expecting to meet the Phantom. If you've only seen the film, and not read the book or watched the play, this line seems completely inexplicable, odd and unnecessary. Many people have questioned its meaning online, to this response: Madame Giry advises people to keep their hand at the level of their eyes because the Phantom uses the punjab lasso as a weapon, with which he is lethal. If you keep your hand up by your eyes, a lasso will probably go around your hand and arm as well as your head, enabling you to prevent yourself from being strangled. (This makes a little more sense in the stage show, where he has traveled widely rather than growing up under the opera house.)
The Phantom of the Opera is worth watching for its enlightening theme, of course, but especially for Webber's score and soundtrack. As with an opera, the emotions behind the music and the vocals carry the story. The tone of the score is so dramatic that when the organ wakes up for the very first time--as the film transitions from black and white to color and the chandelier rises--it will give you chills. Wait until your second or third viewing to turn on the subtitles, and it will feel like you are watching a new movie. The Phantom of the Opera is 143 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for brief violence.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.