Saturday, September 28, 2013

Celebrate Musicals Week - Why I'm Team Erik, or Why I Don't Like Raoul

I have never been a fan of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera.  He has always seemed to be the goody-goody pretty-boy that Christine goes after.  He is a shallow character, and there is not much to him.  To be honest, he’s very boring, too simplistic, and one-dimensional.  He has youth and good looks, but not nearly as vast or broad a soul as the Phantom has.

Christine’s love for the Phantom is more profound, more complex, and deeper than the love she harbors for Raoul.  The Phantom represents her inner passion for art, and for reaching great heights, which reflect the Romantic yearning for knowledge and achievement.  The Phantom wants Christine to dedicate herself to her art, but that isn’t the only aspect of their relationship; it’s more complicated than that.  He does truly love her, which is proven to us when he makes the ultimate sacrifice in the end, and lets go of the only one who could have loved him in return.  The love between Christine and Raoul is young and immature, while the love between Christine and the Phantom is more mature and developed.  In the book, which I have not yet read, but intend to get, I have heard that the Phantom is portrayed as passionate, both romantically and artistically.  Christine feels safe with Raoul, because what she shares with him is more platonic than romantic.  The Phantom’s passion is too wild and frightening for Christine.  She is afraid to go “beyond the point of no return”, both in terms of her personal relationship with the Phantom, and in terms of her art.

The fact that Raoul and Christine were friends as children is very symbolic, because their love is youthful and underdeveloped, and in that respect, childish.  The Phantom seems to regard Raoul as a mere boy.  During “The Mirror”, the Phantom sings, “Insolent boy, this slave of fashion, basking in your glory.  Ignorant fool, this brave young suitor.  Sharing in my triumph!”  To Christine, the Phantom is mystery, darkness, sensuality, and danger, while Raoul is innocence and safety.  The Phantom wants her to get in touch with her darker side, and to learn to love him in spite of his outward disfigurement.  This is why he hides his disfigurement with a mask – he believes that Christine could not love his real form.  The Phantom is a magician, which adds to his deceptive and elusive nature.  He believes that by creating an illusion, he can veil reality, because he knows that others cannot accept reality as it is.

While Christine is torn between Raoul and the Phantom, she is forced to make a choice.  When the Phantom decides to let her go, their farewell is heartbreaking and reduces me to tears every time.  When the Phantom sings the line, “Christine, I love you”, it is clear that he really does love her, but he can never have her.  I believe the ending of The Phantom of the Opera is beautiful the way it is, and I do not like the idea of a sequel (I’m looking at you, Love Never Dies...), but I can never like Raoul.  He is not a character I am capable of liking.  He never has been, and never will be.

Raoul and the Phantom can be seen as two sides of Christine’s nature, which she must choose between.  These two sides of her are mutually exclusive, and cannot coexist.  In the end, she cops out, and chooses the safe and rational life, rather than the life that the Phantom represents, which is fraught with danger, risk, intensity, and sacrifice.  The Phantom inhabits the subterranean regions of the Opera House, symbolizing Christine’s subconscious being.

There are many ways of looking at this story.  You could think of the Phantom as a murderer who wants to possess Christine because he is desperate for love, but I think that is a limited perspective, and that there is far more to this story than that.  The Phantom is perceived in a threatening light, because in terms of Christine’s psyche, it is threatening for her to continue probing her subconscious, and threatening for her to listen to the demands of her inner self, and to contemplate fulfilling such wild and ambitious desires.  Ultimately, her childish self decides to stay in the safe, tame, surface world with Raoul.

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