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Cult Column: The Phantom of the Opera

ByKriszti Kocsis

May 11, 2020

During lockdown it seems unavoidable to have a nostalgic craving to revisit films that we have adored for years. Joel Schumacher’s 2004 adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is one of my earliest memories in life and I have watched it more times than I would dare to admit. It is clear that people can have two kinds of relationship with the movie: there are those who are immediately prompted to yell ‘turn it off’ in disgust, and those who set The Music of the Night as their lullaby and want to throw themselves into Gerard Butler’s Phantom’s arms and whisper ‘I’m yours’. The reasons for this divide are manifold.

Needless to say, if musicals make you cringe automatically, you are probably going to belong to team one. However, even devoted musical-lovers accuse Andrew Lloyd Webber of essentially castrating the original story, wherein a pathetic and violent phantom with a monstrously deformed body haunts the dungeons of the 19th century Paris Opera and is hopelessly in love with the beautiful rising opera-star Christine. Whilst this tale seems better suited to the character-dynamics of dark dramas such as The Hunchback of the Notre Dame and the Gothic horror Jekyll and Hyde, the reinvented Phantom has instead become a beautiful ‘angel of hell’, and Gerard Butler subsequently aced this concept. Despite the complaints of some purists, Lloyd Webber provided us with a new and a lot more eerie approach to the essence of the phantom – the fact that viewers adore every single second on screen and seemingly tend to forgive that he is a murderer, a narcist and pathologically obsessed with Christine makes him and his power over the female protagonist a lot more frightening than an ugly beast whose devotion is simply ridiculed.

Another criticism sometimes aimed at the musical itself and the movie and Schumacher’s 2004 adaptation alike is that there is not as diverse in soundtrack as  other theatrical masterpieces. However, the reprises of a few forever-remember themes, which creates an eerie and coherent soundtrack instead of many individual tracks, is not automatically a flaw.

The actors in the film had a peculiar challenge in that they had to possess both Broadway and Hollywood qualities. Musicals are perhaps inherently less nuanced and as life-like as what the main cast were accustomed to. However, the main trio, Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson are as genuine as a theatre adaption allows them to be. Miranda Richardson and Jennifer Ellison are also little over-dramatized, but this is easily forgotten amongst an array of fantastic performances.

Perhaps most importantly of all, in any production of The Phantom of the Opera, the set is not simply a background but almost a main character, and it could not have been filmed any more gorgeously. Chaotically overpacked with chandeliers, gold and crimson velvet, industrial amounts of flowers and intricately decorated people, it feels like a world in its own right, a mystical enchanted labyrinth that brilliantly juxtaposes shining glamour and a dark, nefarious underbelly.

It is a movie that definitely does not appeal to everybody, but those who love are automatically die-hard fans, and it is easy to see why. Whether you loathe the inventive approach to the Phantom’s character or celebrate it, this is a fantastic reimagining of a classic, timeless story.



Image: via pxfuel