And as Carlotta said, "These things do 'appen," which is why I am going to tell you all about LOVE NEVER DIES: the Sequel to Phantom of the Opera.
Phantom, as you might possibly be aware, is Andrew Lloyd Webber's epic blockbuster musical about a psychopath with half a face who builds a lair under an opera house and kills a few people to achieve what would seem a rather contradictory dual goal of turning Christine Daae into a diva and kidnapping her to live with him forever in the catacombs of Paris, which don't actually exist. Like all good musical theatre nerd-children of the 90's, I have 15 million pieces of Phantom memorabilia and I can still probably sing every word of the OBCR. I love Phantom the way I love all relics of my childhood, and I care about the Sequel to Phantom the way I care that someone is remaking She-Ra: Princess of Power into a live-action CGI-blockbuster directed by Michael Bay. Alas, if this post were only about She-Ra (though if it were they'd probably find someway to fuck her over, too!).
Love Never Dies, the thrilling sequel, is currently premiering to pans in London. There is a delightfully snarky review of it here at the Times Online, which also does us all the favor of revealing the entire plot. If you don't want to read spoilers for the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, then something is very wrong with you, but in any case, you now have fair warning, because the relevant snippets of the review are below. :D
Now, a decade later, Christine receives a mysterious invitation to perform at the magical Phantasma funfair on Coney Island, New York, owned by a freakish composer and brilliant impresario called Mr Y.
Who on earth can that be?
So off she sails with Raoul and their son, Gustave, who is 10. Only when she gets there, and Mr Y/the Phantom reveals himself, does she sing: “I should have known that you’d be here!” Yes, you really should, my dear.
Christine isn’t just dim, she’s also a bit of a slapper. On the very night before her wedding to Raoul, “tormented by my choice”, she ran back to the Phantom. They “kissed”, “touched” and, as he puts it, reminiscing with a desperate, savage passion: “I took you!”
Yet Christine really did love the Phantom, and Raoul turned out to be a cad. He drinks, he gambles, he’s mean to little Gustave, he talks about “lower-class scum” and, with an eye on the Broadway audience, he sneers at “filthy American money”. None of this villainy was remotely hinted at in Phantom. It’s one of the many excruciating ways in which the original characters have had to be deformed to fit this childish and cheesy melodrama. (Babybelodrama, possibly.)
The writer principally responsible is Ben Elton — which, of course, means there are no decent jokes here, either. The Phantom was previously a murderous, gauche, doomed romantic. Now he’s a smooth, debonair operator, irresistible to Christine. And Gustave isn’t Raoul’s son, he’s the Phantom’s, although mercifully he hasn’t inherited his father’s unfortunate facial configuration, or we could be looking at another sequel.
Let me echo this reviewer in noting how COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS all of this is. it is SO RIDICULOUS. it is so! ridiculous! that it almost doesn't bear posting about, because it's SO STUPID IN EVERY WAY ASFJKDSF except that
a) this is at least 3 years of my obsessive little life we are talking about, taken and up-ended and made ludicrous, where before it was mostly just highly fantastic and improbable; and also, far more importantly,
b) it is exactly what I was ranting about last month: rape being disguised as "I love you," x 10000000000.
Let's take a look at what's happened to poor little Christine, shall we?
Never the most empowered heroine to begin with, Christine spends the whole of Phantom caught between 2 men--one of whom is determined to direct her career, first by teaching her music lessons, then by turns harrassing and terrorizing the management and the competition until they let her have the lead roles she deserves. (Which takes on a whole level of meta-irony considering the part was written for the composer's wife, but I DIGRESS.) The other, Raoul, is a childhood friend who comes back into her life just in time to save her from the Phantom, and who earns her love by promising "to guard you and to guide you." The Phantom represents everything that is sexy, dangerous, thrilling, worldly, freakish, and deadly, while Raoul with his dashing good looks and wealth represents everything that is safe, stalwart, and manly. Obviously, Christine's choice is made for her before the curtain even goes up, because we all know what happens to girls who choose the freak instead of the safe bet.
Christine is part-and-parcel a blank-page heroine, almost completely a vehicle for the audience's fascination with and sympathy for the Phantom. Her sung/spoken lines are literally all about the men in her life: her Angel of Music, the Phantom, her father, or Raoul; even the most revealing moments we get about her past come to us through songs she sings rather than in her own words. So Christine herself, despite being one of the most coveted roles in musical theatre history (and challenging, if you count one high E challenging), is a cipher.
She's also the victim of A++++ stalking! I mean, the phantom is really good at it! First he pretends to be an ~angel~, then he does some freaky shit to turn her mirror into a tunnel so that he can appear to her in it and then lead her off into his underground lair, and at some point he impersonates her father and sings to her from a tomb, not to mention he writes a whole freaking opera and demands she stars in it. I mean, the guy does have balls. Christine wars with attraction and terror, the whole time! --which dark conflicts are joined with pity when she realizes that, in the words of cleolinda, OH, MY GOD! HE'S SLIGHTLY UNATTRACTIVE ON ONE SIDE! --after which she falls into a strange mix of sympathy/disgust/lust which i'm sure is all very confusing.
But thank god she has RAOUL on hand to do things like follow the Phantom around (as the Phantom is following her around, kind of like the keystone cops but with more organ music), and convince her to perform roles she doesn't want to perform (literal *and* figurative, because Sir Lloyd Webber is deep like that), and remind her that she LOVES HIM MOAST OK. Poor Christine does all these things admirably, and then, naturally, gets kidnapped by the Phantom anyway in a long cilmax which ends in the Phantom...... inexplicably letting her go because he realizes she's really in love with the other guy, who's proved his worth by getting repeatedly lost in the catacombs of Paris. (And by "letting her go," you get the feeling she probably could have left any time she wanted, but let's not dig *too* deep here, there are traditions involved.)
So, basically, the whole plot of Phantom prime is: Christine is stalked by a serial killer who really likes opera, who eventually lets her go because her love-mixed-with-pity for him has turned his cold heart. Or something.
EXCEPT NOT, BECAUSE TEN YEARS LATER, HE STARTS IT ALL OVER AGAIN. Not only that, but Christine's choice from the first musical is completely undermined. And, okay, "choice" is a dubious word here, but the musical's power revolves around the strength of the audience believing in her love for Raoul and Raoul's love for her. They got a stirring blockbuster Lloyd-Webber love duet, it must be so! More importantly, Christine's love for Raoul is pretty much the only thing she has going on for her in a narrative where her only *active* choices seem to be a) taking singing lessons b) visiting the grave of her dead father (who also told her to take music lessons, so maybe not so much with a) after all), and c) loving Raoul, who basically showed up and said "hey, we're in love!"
This goes back to what I said about the way culturally love-hate relationships are so often meant to undermine the person doing the hating: we (and this includes me!) read Elizabeth as really being drawn to Darcy the whole time; we know from the beginning that Jane Eyre and the violent Mr Rochester are meant to be together despite the fact that she's TERRIFIED of him and he's kind of INSANE; we know Kate/Petruchio and Benedict/Beatrice are in love because they can't stop fighting. Romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and Romancing the Stone and Moonlighting (shut up, 80's romantic comedies are the best) succeed on the basis of that love-hate dynamic masking a barely-concealed lust-lust.
And as I said before, all of these examples are charming and endearing in and of themselves, and I could name dozens more from Anne of Green Gables to Emma to My Man Godfrey to It Happened One Night to The Philadelphia Story to - you get the idea. Bickering! it means love! Except that at the extreme end of that trope, the love/hate is borne of very real danger, the kind that leads to the "rape=love" trope, as old as Leda and the Swan, as eternal as the bodice-ripper, as familiar as Stella Kowalski and Scarlett O'Hara beaming blissfully the morning after being sexually assaulted. It's given us Hush, Hush's Patch telling Nora that no one's around to hear her scream, and us expecting this to be sexy.
Of course she had sex with the Phantom. Consensual? In the first musical they both seemed to feel it was only a matter of time before she'd give in--of free will or exhaustion, it's tough to say. "I took you!" doesn't make it any easier for us either--but why should it? Every woman dreams of being taken by "men with large hands and brute force." Of course she was in love with him the whole time. Of course Raoul turned out to be the real villain while the guy who, you know, only killed scores of people was the true love of her life and the real noble hero of the story.
THIS IS ALL SO RIDICULOUS.
In case it bears repeating, romanticizing the trope of the Elephant Man is bad enough. Taking him and turning him a) into a creepy psychopathic stalker b) a serial killer c) fodder for the audience's fascination/sympathy/terror/sexual fantasies is, all by itself, completely ableist and awful; the story takes care to emphasize that FREAKS ARE DANGEROUS while letting the Phantom inhabit our sexual desires for the bizarre/outlandish/scary/thrilling/forbi
And Christine chooses Raoul in the end. Her ONLY ACTIVE CHOICE IN THE WHOLE MUSICAL, choosing Raoul over the Phantom. And the sequel completely undermines it. If only you had been smart enough to stay with the guy who was stalking you, kidnapping you, impersonating your dead parents, putting 2-way mirrors in your dressing room (srsly), and raping you! Then you could have been really happy, instead of married to indolent Eurotrash who neglects you!
Poor Christine, trapped in a loveless marriage when she could have been with her SOULMATE. You know, THE SERIAL KILLER.
IF ONLY SHE'D REALIZED THAT RAPE=LOVE.
which, uh, i guess means that Rape Never Dies?
but then again, what else is new.
el jay! you know the drill.
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