Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Erika vs The Phantom of the Opera (the character, not the play--COME AT ME ERIK)

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those stories everyone seems to know, even if they've never seen it. It's iconic. Long before I saw the 2004 movie, I could have given you a rough outline of the plot. Until last summer, the movie was the only "real" version I had seen. When the Husbeast and I were on our honeymoon in New York we saw it on Broadway. This happened shortly after they had cast a black man in the role of the Phantom (whose name is actually Erik*) for the first time. He was good, very good, but he was the only black actor on that stage, which made the whole thing a touch uncomfortable. Besides the sudden racist over- and undertones the play had suddenly gained, I noticed something else: the Phantom is kind of a Nice Guy. He's blatantly the villain. Christine spends most of the play actively terrified of him. This isn't romantic pining cursed love, this is a man stalking a woman and threatening her and others (and blaming it on her when he hurts them) into doing what he wants her to do. The movie downplays how terrified Christine is and how villainous Erik is, but below is a list of super creepy things that jumped out at me when re-watching the movie.

An non-chronological tally of Erik being a creep:

  • Christine was about 8 when he first came to her as "her angel of music" and started grooming her.
  • Depending on what we go by, the age gap between the two of them is 12-30 years. The movie slants it more as 12 since that's the age gap between the actors, but he's supposed to have been a full grown man when he first met her. His draw to her is supposed to be fatherly and sexual. THOSE ARE NOT THINGS THAT SHOULD GO TOGETHER EVER.
  • He can see through her mirror. He has 100% watched her change and sleep.
  • When, after grooming her as The Angel of Music, he finally does appear in the flesh before her he leads her down to his sex dungeon. In that number he encourages her to turn away from everything she knows. In "Music of the Night" he is trying to isolate her both physically and emotionally by bringing her down to his dungeon and encouraging her to cut ties with everyone else.
  • Erik literally has an altar dedicated to Christine. With a wax statue of her IN A WEDDING DRESS.
  • She faints upon seeing it and he carries her to bed where he watches her sleep.
  • When she takes off his mask (not a sudden or sneaky move) the Phantom shoves her to the ground and starts screaming at her before twisting it to evoke her pity. Once she is a mass of emotions from his outburst he insists she leave now without giving her any opportunity to say or do anything.
  • He threatens to murder people if he doesn't get  his way (which includes Christine on stage as the lead, piles of money, and for the Viscount to never see her again).
  • He strangles a man and drops his body down onto the stage during a performance even after they scramble to get Christine on stage after he sabotages the Diva.
  • The phantom sees Christine being scared, comforted, and romanced by Raul as a personal betrayal and has a whole number about how she totally friendzoned him.
  • Verbatim line: "You will curse the day you did not do all the Phantom asked of you"
  • He emotes with his cape. A lot.
  • He crashes a great party just to yell at people, publicly point out that he's been the one teaching Christine, and to tell her to come back. He also rips Christine's engagement ring off of her and yells that he owns her.
  • We do get his TRAGIC BACK STORY which is that he was abused as a kid and displayed as a side show freak, but...


Pictured: Jake from Brooklyn 99 saying "Cool motive. Still murder."

  • Erik stalks Christine to her Father's grave, where she is going to try and sift through her fear and confusion and loneliness so he can try to lure her back when she's vulnerable. He sings about how the "soul obeys". NO, THAT'S ALL THE GROOMING ERIK.
  • When Raul bursts in to save her, he and the Phantom fight. Phantom was straight up gonna murder Raul but fails. Raul was in position to murder the phantom but Christine tells him not to, so, no questions asked, HE DOESN'T. Just puts his sword away and gets them both onto the horse. Erik declares "war on you both" for this. For... not.. killing him?
  • Did I mention the cape emoting yet?
  • The entire number of "Past The Point Of No Return" is basically a self-insert sex fantasy fanfic that he is forcing Christine to act in. It seriously plays almost like a sex scene, but there's a lot of conflating song and sex.
  • He uses the song Raul and Christine sing together, and forces her to sing it to him during previously-mentioned almost sex scene.
  • When Christine yanks the mask off him, he literally tries to murder a room full of people via chandelier and kidnaps her.
  • He literally makes her wear a wedding dress
  • He insists the reason Christine dislikes him is because he's ugly and says it "poisons their love". You know. Not the murder.
  • 'Give up everything you know and love me or walk away and I kill your lover. Your call.'
  • She picks him, he has a change of heart and angrily tells them to run away but still refers to himself as "the angel in hell" as he weeps over how much he loves her.
  • Somehow outlives her and leaves the wedding ring he tried to force on her by her grave.

ZOMG ALL SO ROMANTIC! And by "romantic" I mean "goddamn terrifying", but it's a story that ties itself off. In the play, she and Raul go off to get married and live their lives, Phantom-free, while Erik remains a huge creep and obsesses over her for literally the rest of his life.

All of this to say: there is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera, set ten years later on Coney Island! I feel the need to specify no, I'm not joking. Erik has come into possession of a freak show/circus. It is run by Madam Giry--you know, the woman who rescued the Phantom as a child and has been enabling his murderin' and creepin' all these years. It also employs her daughter, Christine's best friend from the first installment, Meg. How did Erik come to own this business? Considering he escaped a Freak Show as a kid, why on Earth does he choose that of all things? Where does he keep getting all this money from? When he vanished at the end of the play how did he get in touch with Madam Giry again? Why did she not only agree to go help him, but drag her daughter (a promising ballerina) with her into it? I know she respects his talent and pities him, but why does she keep helping him? If only his mask was ever found at the end of the play (a fact confirmed at the start of the sequel) where did he get a new one? Meg is the one to find it; does she just hold onto it for him, knowing she'll see him again? (But it's established in Phantom of the Opera that Meg doesn't know about Erik repeatedly) Why Coney Island of all places? I'd like to know the answer to all of these questions too! But there are no answers dear reader. Only more questions.

There is no true movie adaptation of this play. There likely will not be a movie adaptation of this play, either. There is however a very high-quality filmed version of it on Netflix, which is where I first found Love Never Dies. My immediate response upon reading the synopsis was "What. Why? How? Andrew Lloyd Webber actually did this? Was he strapped for cash orrr? Oh man, Coney Island, what even--this is going to be amazing" So sit down, this is gonna be fun.

Love Never Dies opens with the Phantom lamenting how for ten long years he has been wasting his time on "smoke and noise" and how he can't write real music since he "lost" Christine. He's too distracted by, uh, the carnival he owns and runs? He has a giant-ass painting of her (less creepy than a lifelike wax statue, but still creepy) and sings about missing her. The number goes on about her just coming by, or thinking she's with him in the dark and waking to realize: nope still alone. As if these were things that ever happened, not him stalking and kidnapping her when he felt like it. But listen, he knows what's going on (like all guys angsting over a woman they never actually dated ten years ago).  It'll all be fine if he can only hear her sing one more time. He just needs one more hit of her sweet sweet singing, yo.

We're then rapidly introduced to the--park? Circus? I'm going with amusement park--that he owns on Coney Island: typical spooky vaguely-gothic old-timey circus as designed in modern times. You know the look. We're then introduced to Meg as their Ooh-la-la girl and to her hopes that Erik is watching her. Basically, she wants to be the object of his obsession like Christine was, which raises some questions for me. Christine obviously didn't tell her what was going on, and in Phantom of the Opera she was clueless. Which means whatever exposure she has had to him has been after he murdered a bunch of people. As far as I can tell, Erik interacts with her little to not at all, so, where does her obsession with him come from? Christine was groomed, and he does the whole "mysterious/dangerous/sexy intensity" thing at her, but as far as I can tell Meg never got the same treatment. This leaves me with the only guess of her Mother, Madam Giry. Why she would want her own daughter to be his new muse is beyond me. Not like anyone died or a whole opera house burnt down or anything last time, Giry.

We're informed that Christine is coming to New York to sing at the opening of a new opera house (her first performance in years), which has Meg excited and Madam Giry pissed. She sees Christine running away from the murderer/stalker as a betrayal, and points out that they were the ones to get Erik set up again. They were the ones who bribed and "charmed" (slept with) politicians to get the permits and such for the park. Where was Christine? Chasing fame and fortune with her stupid viscount husband Raul! Yes. How dare she not be the one to obsessively dedicate her life to a murderer. Which makes me wonder: I mean, Giry has a daughter, but where's Meg's father? I don't think it's Erik, but I wonder if he didn't murder him.

Christine, Raul, and their son Gustav get off the boat to be swarmed by reporters with strange accents, and everyone talks over Christine. Considering we have two plays that freak out over how amazing her voice is, it's kind of interesting how often she's denied it. In Phantom of the Opera her voice isn't really her own property, it's Erik's, or it's Raul and the people using it to try and catch Erik. The only time she gets to sing that is for her is her big debut, "Think Of Me". That's over two plays. The reason she's singing this time is because Raul has lost all their money and gotten them in debt. There will be a plot point in Love Never Dies about how she has to choose who she sings (or doesn't) sing for, but never is she offered the option "herself".

There is another thing that strikes me here though. She hasn't sung in years. We don't know how many, exactly. We know she performed long enough to become famous, but she was also pretty infamous before the Opera Populair burnt down, thanks to everything happening around her. Did she stop singing because she became a mother, or because Erik traumatized her?

Settled in their hotel room Raul stomps around and rages a bit while Christine tries to sooth his ego and Gustav is all "I am cute and innocent, does the audience love me yet? Will their love make up for my own father's disinterest?" Raul will decide to go neglect his wife and child to meet with the guy who hired Christine in the bar, leaving her to explain to their child why his father doesn't love him that his father actually loves him. Christine tries to explain (through song) that love isn't something easily seen, and it's often not pretty and it's hard, so you know, ignore all the things your eyes and brain tell you above what love should or should not look like and just go with your heart. I know this is supposed to be setting the stage for the Phantom to come in and remind her what love really feels like but it comes off a lot like "Yes, he is abusive and awful, but I love him so it's okay: The Musical" and is sending my ears so far around my shoulders I'm getting a cramp.

Erik bursts into the room through the balcony in a dramatic mist with his personal orchestra playing on the ground below. Or at least I'm assuming that's where the music is coming from? Christine promptly faints, giving the Phantom an excuse to scoop her up like a lake monster about to carry her off to the watery depths of his sex pit, but he remembers there's a kid in the other room and instead gently places her in a nearby chair and hovers awkwardly, not sure what the pacing is for someone to regain consciousness after shock fainting. Fortunately, when you're the only two people on stage it's a quick recovery.

This is where things get weird. (Yes, here, not the bit where Erik has an amusement park on Coney Island.) After a moment of being startled, Christine promptly begins to rip into Erik. Not for turning up again, but for letting her think he was dead all this time. She yells at him for trying to turn up now and "claim her voice again". More mention of her voice not being her own.

Erik's response is simply "Do you know how much is sucked for me? 10 years since I was last able to creep on you babe" to which she points out "I WAS ONLY YOUR BABE FOR ONE NIGHT OF FREAKY SEX. ONE NIGHT" before they launch into a number about said night of freaky sex. It also plays some hardcore revisionist history. Christine talks about having loved him and implies she wasn't terrified of him.

I guess 10 years and thinking someone is dead makes it easier to see them in a kinder, less terrifying light. I mean, people get turned into saints when they die, so I guess Christine has been playing revisionist history with herself. As for the "one night": WHEN THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN? I thought maybe the first time he kidnapped her, but he's there when she wakes up, and he slipped off into the night when they boned because he was scared and ashamed (she's still kinda pissed about that). So it wasn't then... I guess it was when they were preparing for the next opera, the one where he wanted Christine to be the duchess and she was cast as the page and then he killed a dude? So, before the murder, because she is currently singing about how she loved him and would have done whatever he asked. Which makes sense in that time frame and paired with whatever story she's been telling herself about all that murdering he did? I don't even know. This is just--HE KILLED SO MANY PEOPLE AND THREATENED TO KILL RAUL IF YOU DIDN'T LOVE HIM AND ALSO DO YOU REMEMBER THE CREEPY WEDDING DRESS BIT? BECAUSE IT SCARED YOU AT THE TIME AND I THINK IF YOU REALLY ADORED HIM AS MUCH AS YOU SAY YOU DID THEN MAYBE THOSE SCENES WOULD HAVE GONE DIFFERENTLY CHRISTINE. CHRISTINE. REMEMBER THE BIT ABOUT ALL THE STALKING?

The song ends with her telling him off all "No, no. We had great sex and passion but there is no now because you fucked up so bad, bruh. So bad. Didn't even leave a note or one of those weird single roses with a black ribbon you love leaving around so much."  But they both lament their lost chance. AGAIN, YOU HAD A SECOND CHANCE WHEN HE DID THE WHOLE KIDNAPPING AND THREATENING RAUL THING IF YOU REALLY MEANT ALL THIS. He then tries to convince her to sing for him and she promptly tells him "I don't owe you shit, no". They intertwine sex and song and submission with these two a lot, so honestly I don't even know right now.

They're interrupted by Gustav wandering out to be innocent and stuff. Christine is awkward and all "Hey Erik check out my spawn" and Erik is all "Yes hello little boy it is time to traumatize ur Mom" and heaves him up on the railing and asks Gustav what he wants to do. Gustav basically says "all the weird shit" before Christine manages to break them up and get Gustav back to bed, but not before Erik promises to take him adventuring later. Erik realizes he has an even better threat now, and compliments her on her perfect child and says: listen, help me with my depression. Help your mentor Christine. Do me this kindness. Please. Do it or your kid miiiiight go missing. You know. Maybe. He leaves her sobbing over the sheet music.

Romantic.

This play is trying to make him a viable romantic option and I'm still rooting for the absentee drunken husband. Well, no. I'm rooting for Christine and Meg to fuck off and start a show together somewhere far away from wherever  Erik and Raul are (and to take Gustav with them). More on that later.

Meg, Christine, Madam Giry and Raul all meet and realize what a clusterfuck things are about to become. Christine is singing tomorrow, Meg's distressed because she was supposed to be the leading lady, Madam Giry is distressed because she knows what this means, and Raul finds out who her secret employer is and is kind of freaking out. He did try to kill him like seven different times. During all this Gustav is misplaced (and by "misplaced" I mean lured by circus freaks to the Erik's lair). Whoops.

Erik, after hanging out with Gustav near a piano for like, twelve seconds, realizes there is a distinct possibility that he is his secret offspring. Spoilers: He is his secret offspring. He realizes this when Gustav is all "Oh cool look at all this creepy goth stuff" (the goth aesthetic is genetic) and I really enjoy the musical number "Beauty Underneath". It layers Gustav and the Phantom's voices wonderfully, and just has a great intensity to it.

The Phantom gets super excited because he thinks this kid is going to be okay with him just yanking his mask off with no warning or explanation. He isn't. He runs off screaming, which is what leads Christine and Meg to them. Meg is staring at Erik and I suspect rarely if ever has gotten to be face to face with him, there's a certain awe to how she looks at him and moves. He ignores her. Gustav goes off with Meg while the Phantom is all "CHRISTINE HE IS OBVIOUSLY MY SPAWN YOU DIDN'T MENTION THIS YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS THREATENING TO MURDER HIM WHY? Also never let him know I'm his real Dad because he's scared of me. Now please get out of here. UR FREE. AGAIN." However, this is only act one.

Christine takes pity on him and is moved by how moved he is by the discovery of a son and swears to stay and sing. This is the first time that she makes an active, willing choice to do anything in this play. Once she leaves the Phantom sings about how having a son who is so beautiful and perfect has given him a reason to live even if he hates him and he'll leave everything to this kid. Which pisses off Madam Giry (who was just lurking around) because seriously.  It's been ten years of her and Meg working their asses off to get Erik on his feet, come ON! We have a right to it, Erik! (Who knew that having a murderer and stalker for a boss might lead to unpredictable working climates.)

We get to see Raul angsting: he's dead inside and feels awful for how he's been treating Christine and Gustav, et cetera, why can't he be a better dude. The play has been trying to vilify him, so it's nice to see them take a step back to paint him more sympathetically. Meg wanders in for coffee, finds him at the bar, and urges him to take Christine and go very very far away very fast because once she sings for Erik, that's it, she'll do anything for him.

Raul grumbles as she flees and slumps back to the bar muttering about how Erik is just another circus freak. Just in time for the Phantom to pop out... of nowhere, really. Dunno where he came from. Was he just... hiding under the bar? Where did the other bartender go? He and Raul promptly make a bet over Christine. Who will she choose? Her husband, or the guy who knocked her up and let her think he was dead for ten years? If the Phantom wins and she sings, Raul vanishes in the night. If Raul wins and she doesn't, their debts are forgiven and they can go try to start fresh. Again, musically a good scene, but they are literally betting on Christine's fate without her consent or knowledge. Her choosing to sing isn't her picking Erik over Raul, it's her picking music. YOU TWO ARE NOT ONE AND THE SAME ERIK. It's also making her first willing choice to sing no longer about choosing to sing, but about who has ownership of her voice.

What can or would she do if Raul vanished? I can't imagine divorce was an option for her in that time and culture--would she be shamed? Cast from society? She's already followed by the paparazzi, how the hell will Erik deal with that if, in his perfect scenario, Raul leaves her and she decides to be with him? I just--ERIK YOU ARE A SELFISH DICKBAG. You spend a lot of time claiming to love and adore Christine but consistently act against her best interest, without her consent. No. Nope. Do not ship it.

Raul, after the Phantom leaves, realizes "wow I fucked up" and runs off yelling "My Christine"--WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT HER IN POSSESSIVE TERMS?

Cut to Meg's big number and then her gushing excitedly to her Mother about how well she did and now surely the Phantom will see how SHE'S THE ONLY ONE HE NEEDS. Her Mother tells her everything they both did was a waste because of Christine and their son. Meg breaks down after her Mother deliberately devastates her, and Madam Giry then just wanders off. She remains more focused on Erik than her own daughter, to the point of psychologically traumatizing her to try and bend her to serve Erik as well. PARENTING.

Raul tries to get his shit together and begs Christine not to sing. She agrees-ish and asks to be alone and unbothered for ten minutes to get her shit together. Raul leaves and Erik locks the door after him. He pops out, convinces her to sing, because music yo, and puts a very fancy necklace on her that looks a biiiit like a collar. When alone she admits she actually wants to refuse the Phantom but doesn't think she can. Because reasons. Pants reasons.

Christine sings the titular song, which... is actually one of the weakest in the show. Raul realizes he has lost, and wanders off. Christine and Erik immediately mash faces with great force and gusto. She spots the note from Raul and realizes that Gustav is MIA. Turns out Meg, who was left a wreck, took him. Whoops. Somehow Erik knows she's at the boardwalk--which, really? How? We see that he pays her little mind, how does he know how she feels about the ocean? Madam Giry is right there, she should be the one to suggest it. Everyone rushes for the boardwalk where she's about to throw Gustav in. This is foreshadowed, but it's obvious they're not going to kill Gustav. There's no wire on him.

Meg sobs and yells at Erik because LOOK AT ME NOW FUCKER! Well, that's one way to get a man's attention. She lets go of Gustav to pull a gun on herself, which I guess is to reinforce that she probably wasn't planning to actually hurt Gustav? It's unclear, but I don't think Meg knows what she was about to do either, so... eh?

Erik, the least qualified person to try to talk her down, tries to talk her down: "Yes I know what it's like to feel ugly but I still see the beauty in you".  He then fucks up by trying to bring Christine into it. Meg starts to lose it, Erik tries to take the gun, and Christine gets shot. I will admit I expected/hoped Erik would get shot, but we don't always get the things we want in life.

Madam Giry and Meg run off, presumably to find a doctor? Christine breaks her promise to Erik and tells Gustav Erik is his real dad. Gustav is pretty sure that Raul should be in this scene, although being ten he'd struggle to explain why, and runs off to find him. Erik and Christine have their dramatic last moment, they hug and kiss and sing, she dies in his arms. Much angst. Very drama. Her husband and kid pop up and Erik awkwardly lets Raul hold his wife's body with his kid, realizing that this isn't actually his family. Oh sure, NOW you fucking realize that Erik? After you got her killed?  (And apparently raising the kid for ten years doesn't make Raul Gustav's 'real' dad?  Nope, only matters who mom boned.  Classy message, Webber.)

He staggers off stage right to sob a bit, so overcome with grief and Gustav wanders over to him, considering his Mother's last words of "look with your heart". He squints at Erik, who is a bit like a puppy here, hoping to be pet, takes the mask off, squints some more, and gives him some ear scritches. This is supposed to be leaving us with a note of hope that hey, sure, his mother is dead and he found out his dad isn't his biological dad and is probably not fit to be a parent, but look, Erik has someone look at his scarred disfigured face and not run screaming!

The whole thing reads like a fanfic written by someone who shipped Erik and Christine and thought he was actually a viable love interest and she picked wrong by going off with Raul. Instead of Andrew Lloyd Webber who wrote the first play (although not the book, which I have never read).

I hate the ending. I hate it so much. So I'm rewriting it. Fuck you, Webber.

They come up on the boardwalk where Meg is about to throw off Gustav, and Erik is promptly shoved to the back. Christine, worried about her son, begs Meg for mercy. Meg breaks down, sobbing, why does Christine have all these blessings? The Viscount chose her. Erik chose her. Even her own Mother chose her the day she suggested Christine take over in Phantom of the Opera, and she has this perfect son--and Christine cuts her off to tell her she's loved and worthy so listen, I've got passage for three to wherever Raul wanted us to flee to. Let's ditch all of these assholes and go. Together. And then they do, leaving Erik and Madam Giry both having lost the things they care about and learned that their selfish actions have consequences. Madam Giry realizes she can't live her whole life dedicated to Erik, and with the sack of money he gives her for all her work she goes off to find her own way in life.

ONLY CHRISTINE MEG AND GUSTAV LIVE HAPPILY EVER FUCK EVERYONE ELSE.

The End.

---

*I'm using his first name because typing The Phantom every time felt a bit absurd but yes, his name being one letter off from mine does make me surly, thanks for asking.

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