I’ve only been to a few musicals. It wasn’t something I did growing. I mainly stuck to things I was familiar with like sports and action movies. All that changed, however, when I met my wife; a true thespian. She has shared her love of theater with me and I am grateful. Moreover, I feel slightly more sophisticated these days. The other night we went on another musical adventure, this time to see Phantom of the Opera.
While watching the production live, I realized that Phantom is a good story, full of themes that touch the human spirit. The main character, the Phantom, is a confusing and remarkable character. Throughout the musical he appears to be searching for something. Through allusions in the play, as well as knowing the background to the story, we figure out he desires acceptance. His life has been defined by failure and rejection. As a viewer, you don’t know what to make of him. Is he the villain or the hero? He does both heroic and villainous deeds in musical—murder, extortion, sacrifice, stalking—and you are drawn to ambivalence about him. I heard one writer describe the Phantom as a “Parisian Batman.” (After all he has a cool lair and some sweet gadgets. Furthermore, he has his own Phantom-boat which sort of looks like a gondola designed by Tim Burton.) What do you do with this character? You are mesmerized by him and scared of him. Kind of like Carrot Top.
The ambivalence continues as the story proceeds. You feel compassion towards him because of the facial scarred, Harvey Dent look he’s sporting. He desperately longs for compassion and your heart goes out to him. On the one hand, he has this bad boy image. He’s dark, elusive and has a great singing voice. This makes him romantic. And then you have to deal with his creepy stalker persona. Needless to say, he is complicated. My wife made a really good point about the “emotion” portrayed by different actors who play the Phantom. At times, the Phantom comes across as defeated and weak. In the movie version, though, Gerard Butler does an amazing job of showing the Phantom is not a helpless, pitiful creature; rather, he is a tortured soul, in deep agony over his predicament. He is in love, even though he finds himself unlovable.
The ending scene I found particularly powerful. After the Phantom has unleashed his villainous rage on the opera house, he kidnaps Christine and takes her once again on his scary gondola ride to his secret lair. When the man she professes to love, Raoul, comes to her rescue, the Phantom puts a noose on his neck. He then tells Christine to make a choice: live with the Phantom and spare the life of Raoul or reject the Phantom and Raoul dies. A dilemma indeed. Christine, though, has a different plan. She pleads with the Phantom and then makes a bold move: she kisses him. The kiss causes something to change in the Phantom’s mind. It is a pivotal, musical-altering moment.
In writing and film, a kiss is often a symbolic gesture in many ways. A kiss symbolizes affection, love, even sacrifice. In this instant, the kiss reveals that Phantom has finally been shown acceptance and compassion. Until now, he’s only known rejection. He has become a slave to finding some way that he can be complete. Earlier in the musical when rejected, he lashes out on those around him. He has tried through the power of music and seduction, but was denied. Acceptance has always been his pursuit, his endeavor and his initiative. In the final scene, though, Christine chooses to share this kiss with him. The Phantom receives it. In all of his efforts to attain the one thing he desired, it happens without his initiative. He releases Christine and Raoul, and the musical comes to an end.
An easy way to figure out if a play is a comedy or tragedy is whether or not the main character gets what he wants. Although the Phantom doesn’t win the affection of Christine, it doesn’t mean the musical is a tragedy. He certainly pursues her and we can assume desires her, but there is something deeper that he as longed for: freedom. The Phantom has lurked in the shadows for years, searching to be free from his predicament. It becomes his obsession to the point of stalking his protégé and threatening her in order to find acceptance. But he doesn’t get it in this way. He becomes even more estranged. Finally, though, acceptance is given in the form of a kiss. Something he could never take, but only receive.
We want to live free. Perhaps this freedom we desire is from a sin or compulsive behavior. Maybe we desire freedom from the voice of self-doubt or low self-esteem, or even from our past. No matter what the desire, freedom will not happen by working harder or striving further in our lives. We cannot do enough to acquire it. Just the opposite is needed—to stop trying and start accepting. True freedom happens when we choose to receive from God.
Freedom is a byproduct of receiving life in Christ. Can we accept what Christ has done, and start a process of transformation, partnering with God’s Spirit at work within us. Can we choose not to take, but rather to receive what the Father has already done for us?