Classic Remarks: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic?

Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Courtesy of IMDbUgh, this guy.

Let me be upfront: my judgment is on Joel Schumacher’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. I haven’t seen any other film or stage version, nor have I read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

I believe I was in high school when I first saw the movie. It struck me as rather weak overall, and particularly infuriating in how it seemed to romanticize the abusive, creepy, criminal Phantom.

Oh sure, he has a tragic backstory to explain his deformed appearance and antisocial behavior. Although, if you ask me, the movie’s version of these “deformities” are less severe than I’ve seen on several other real-life people who nonetheless live their own lives with compassion, healthiness, and a fair bit of normality. Likewise many people have overcome far worse abuses than he is said to have suffered and live functional, non-murderous lives. Still, this is the reason the story gives us as to why he tends to murder people out of vengeance, or, you know, if he happens to see them during a ballet performance he really doesn’t like (R.I.P. poor stagehand). He’s given passionate songs with passionately creepy lyrics to sing, and I guess some people are impressed by the rose he leaves on Christine’s tomb nearly fifty years after the whole affair. Honestly, I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

This is a fellow who:

  • Uses a young, naïve woman as a tool to get revenge on society, despite the fact that the specific people who harmed him in the past won’t be affected by this revenge (making it not really revenge, but mere criminal actions)
  • Uses said woman to vicariously live a life of musical fame denied to him by his deformity, criminal activity, and general hatred of other people
  • Tries to seduce said woman with various techniques designed to strip her of her ability to make informed decisions, including:
    • lying about his identity and intentions
    • hypnotism
    • threats of violence against those she cares about
    • physically holding her captive
    • physically holding captive the man she actually loves
    • forcing her to wear a wedding dress and commanding her to marry him
    • blatant emotional manipulation in general
  • murdering an innocent stagehand
  • threatening terrorist acts upon the theater if they don’t do what he wants

At the end, he shows some remorse for his actions, and he does leave Christine and Raoul in peace for the rest of their lives. But he’s never brought to justice for his crimes, and his crimes are in no way romantic. It’s all the worse because the film musical never seems able to acknowledge the severity of his sins or the sort of repentance he really needs in order to be redeemed. I felt that it paints him as tragic, but sweet and impressive in his devotion and dramatics. I find him kind of disgusting.

It also hurts that he dresses so very similarly to the heroic vigilante of my own fiction for which this very blog is named. But that at least is without his control, and so I will try not to hold that against him. I like his dramatic style, but not his morals or actions.

Seriously, do an image search of “phantom of the opera unmasked” to compare the 2004’s deformities with the far more severe portrayals in other adaptations.


  1. Briana says:

    I think you hit just about every point I would have made about this movie.

    1. David says:

      Great minds think alike. 🙂

  2. Krysta says:

    Everyone always seems to forget the murdered stagehand. Apparently if you are not a main character your death is easily overlooked and forgiven, as long as your murderer sings a few passionate songs.

    1. David says:

      I know! When he hanged the poor fellow, that was when I lost all sympathy for the Phantom. Yes, there is certainly a tragedy about his past, but his choices mark him as a villain.

  3. kesseljunkie says:

    I like your angle here – especially because I was a HUGE fan of the Weber musical. (Saw it on Broadway with some of the original cast, that’s how old I am.)

    And yes, the Phantom is a villain. No two ways about it. But he’s also a product of his experiences, and I think that the real beauty of the original novel, and the original Lon Cheney movie, as well as the stage musical, is that it doesn’t disavow that. The Phantom doesn’t know how to be romantic – he thinks he is, but he doesn’t understand it. He also doesn’t understand love; like Anakin Skywalker, he thinks he is in love, but really what he’s feeling is possessiveness and a desire to redeem himself through the other person.

    While there’s no mitigating factor for his actions, the source material is largely an exercise of showing a villain who struggles with his humanity. There is some small piece of him inside that knows what he is doing is wrong but he can’t control it. Think of The Incredible Hulk or Dr. Jekyll; the Phantom’s “redemption” is that, at the end of the book/play/movie he realizes he has been wrong, and it’s because he’s shown mercy, which is in itself a foreign concept to him. It’s a postulation that, if he’d been shown some sort of human kindness in his life before then, maybe things could have been different. The Phantom is a reflection of our own monstrosities as much as his own.

    Two closing thoughts:

    I think I’m going to turn this comment into an answer blog and link back to yours;
    Joel Schumacher’s adaptation is terrible.

    Thanks for a thought-provoker.

    1. David says:

      I do like the music, although parts of it sounded a bit too repetitive the last time I heard it. But it has some very powerful, stirring themes, and the musical in general is a colorful showcase for a theater company.

      The book sounds pretty interesting. I should read it and watch the Lon Chaney version some day!

      Glad I could inspire some deep thoughts! I look forward to reading your article.

      1. kesseljunkie says:

        It’s out there now! Always a pleasure to interact with you.

  4. I agree. This musical is basically about an unbalanced stalker type who happens to be talented musically and also smarter than average, which happens to give him leverage and power.

    It’s considered romantic by many because it taps into the fascination with “crazy man, ghost or monster as romantic interest” (see the Twilight series and many others). Pretty sick stuff.

    1. David says:

      Have to agree. Yup. Now I’m told that the book is not so sympathetic to the Phantom. And I saw an older film version starring Claude Rains that that had a fairly different story and take on the Phantom that at least made more sense than the musical. But still, it’s the music that people usually like, so it’s the musical that has influenced people. I just can’t get behind the musical’s story.

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