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Monday, August 16, 2010

Movies & Madness: The Phantom

Someone suggested a while back that I review movie characters from a therapist perspective, so I picked The Phantom of the Opera because it's a favorite.

One reason is dichotomy between the dark, sexy Phantom and the heroic, noble Raoul. Besides the fact that Gerard Butler (an all-time fav of mine) plays the Phantom in the Hollywood film version, the therapist side of me really feels for the guy, which is another reason I love the flick. I mean, come on. He doesn't even have a name (although he did in the book). He was "Devil's Child" when being paraded around the the circus and then just "Phantom." His facial scarring left him emotionally scarred, as well. I don't condone his killing or anything like that, but I can see how his anger and angst provide the raw materials to do the things he did. The Phantom has got to be one of the most haunted (no pun intended) characters in the history of filmography/theater.

I'm also just blown away by the lyrics. Charles Hart did most of them, but there was some collaboration on some songs. I'll be looking at two songs in particular.

Both the Phantom and Raoul do their best to woo Christine, and the girl has to decide between the two. Phantom woos her with his song "Music of the Night." I've included a few lines below, or you can click on the YouTube video if you have a few more minutes and want to listen to Gerard belt it out:

Softly, deftly music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it secretly possess you
Open up you mind let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night.

Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation
let the dream begin let your darker side give in
to the power of the music that I write
The power of the music of the night

Then Christine gets wooed by Raoul with a song that's almost the polar opposite, "All I Ask of You." Patrick Wilson seriously has one of the best voices ever. I like to close my eyes and imagine Jesus singing this song to me. Try it yourself:

No more talk of darkness,
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I'm here, nothing can harm you
my words will warm and calm you
Let me be your freedom,
let daylight dry your tears.
I'm here with you, beside you,
to guard you and to guide you...

Let me be your shelter
let me be your light
You're safe, No one will find you
your fears are far behind you...

So Christine's got the most basic choice of all mankind before her: good or evil. That's what it boils down to. Bad guy Phantom loves her, all right, but his love is warped, as he doesn't understand love and never had any kind of example. Raoul, though, growing up with a family in tact (he says his parents have always been great supporters of the arts, so he is the patron of the opera house now...and I draw from that the conclusion that Raoul likely emulated his parents in more ways that just that) understands what love and true sacrifice is. He makes a counteroffer Christine just can't refuse.

I really like to think about the Phantom and Raoul as human representations of much larger scale. The devil is out there, wooing people with his night music, while Jesus sings a song of light and love. It's truly beautiful.

[You can stop reading here...otherwise, you're going to get a therapist run-down of her favorite scene and how it relates to the goals of writing.]

The scene of Raoul singing to Christine "All I Ask of You" is my most favorite in the Hollywood movie made in 2004. The reason for this isn't just the love song and great singing. It's because its the first time the viewer actually feels pity for the Phantom's plight. Now, up until then, he wasn't really this awful villain just yet, but seeing Raoul and Christine together gives him the push over the edge of insanity a bit. But it's played so well that the viewer actually still feels sorry for him, understanding how his broken heart could lead him to such terrible actions. We've all been there. We can pity him because we have empathy with him.

And this is exactly what we need to do as writers with our villains, as well! Make the reader really feel for them by giving them an incredibly horrible backstory or some other weak point that made them like who they are today.

At the climax of the film, when the Phantom descends into his cave with Christine and Raoul comes after her, the Phantom makes Christine make a choice, once he has Raoul trapped:

Start a new life with me
Buy his freedom with your love!

Refuse me, and you send your lover to his death!

This is the choice,

This is the point of no return!

He uses the very choice she had made earlier (to love Raoul) to bring her to this huge decision. This is MAJOR!! Our heroines (and heros) have to face this black moment, as well. It's made more psychologically powerful when it plays on the emotions of the one making the life-altering decision. She's seriously in a no-win situation, but when she thinks of the type of life the Phantom has had:

Pitiful creature of darkness,
What kind of life have you known?

God give me courage to show you,

You are not alone...

She is playing on the emotions of the villain! Ah-ha! This is brilliant. Striking him at his Achilles' heel. It's like she creates her own Option C, blindsiding the Phantom (with two major knee-buckling kisses) and getting what she wants in the process (Raoul). Although the kisses horrify Raoul as he stands there and watches, Christine actually does it all for him (and the romantic in me likes to think she did it to show the Phantom compassion despite all the things he had done).

This is just poetic and beautiful and perfect to me. of my favorite movies ever. And hopefully we can all learn a bit from it when we're creating our characters.

Q4U: What other movie characters would you want assessed if I continue doing this?

Wordle: signature


Danette said...

This may seem way too classic, but what was really up with Scarlet O'Hara? She seemed obsessive to the point of self-destruction. What would cause someone to be this way?

And really enjoyed this look at Phantom - also one of my favorites. The characters are very compelling.

Shannon said...

For a far less classic eye view, I'd have to vote for Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernaturals. I've always found their brotherly relationship and individual screw-ball personalities surprisingly complex and deep. It'd also give a good excuse for there to be more highly attractive pictures on your site!

Beth Caudill said...

How about another triad and work on Sabrina from the movie Sabrina (Harrison Ford version preferred.)

I love Phantom of the Opera. I ruined my cassette tape version of the Musical in high school listening to Michael Crawford. Have you ever read Phantom by Susan Kay. It's the life history of Eric and a good read.

Mary Aalgaard said...

The Phantom has captured me, too. It IS that empathy we feel for him, the wounded child, scorned by is defects, in love with a woman and cut to the soul for her. And, the music, oh the music. I'm going to play them right now. Excellent analysis!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.