Monday, February 23, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera as a Metaphor for the Human Decision

I had a conversation recently regarding the merits of The Phantom of the Opera. I love the music as well as the story, but for different reasons.

The music is well-written from a creative standpoint. The orchestrations of the original are more than adequate, but lack the refinement of a more seasoned composer. He wrote it in his younger years to be sure and I imagine his later works are more refined. However, the score from a theoretical standpoint is simply brilliant.

The story, however, takes a bit of thought to process. I have considered that I have derived more meaning from the plot and characters than was originally intended. As long as it’s not the Bible, I enjoy discovering unintended meaning. By the way, if you have not seen Phantom of the Opera, you won’t get much out of this. I’m not going to summarize the thing, but write as though you are familiar with the story.

Consider, if you will, the characters of the Phantom and Raoul. Neither are perfect men, but Raoul is generally an honorable Viscount (royalty) while the Phantom is a treacherous and deceitful genius. Both love Christine and vie for her affections.

The Phantom portrays himself falsely to Christine as the “Angel of Music” sent by her late father while Raoul was a childhood friend of Christine before her father died.

Christine discovers the Phantom’s treachery and rather plans to marry Raoul. The tension between the three of them culminates when the Phantom creates a decision for Christine whether to choose the Phantom so that Raoul would live or to choose Raoul although the Phantom would kill him.

"I saw your ecstasy AT THE SOUND OF THE VOICE, Christine: the voice that came from the wall or the next room to yours...yes, YOUR ECSTASY! And that is what makes me alarmed on your behalf. You are under a very dangerous spell. And yet it seems that you are aware of the imposture, because you say to-day THAT THERE IS NO ANGEL OF MUSIC! In that case, Christine, why did you follow him that time? Why did you stand up, with radiant features, as though you were really hearing angels?...Ah, it is a very dangerous voice, Christine, for I myself, when I heard it, was so much fascinated by it that you vanished before my eyes without my seeing which way you passed! Christine, Christine, in the name of Heaven, in the name of your father who is in Heaven now and who loved you so dearly and who loved me too, Christine, tell us, tell your benefactress and me, to whom does that voice belong? If you do, we will save you in spite of yourself. Come, Christine, the name of the man! The name of the man who had the audacity to put a ring on your finger!"

The fallen human will is filled with such tension. I know this of myself and I identify readily with Christine’s decision as well as the mixture of good and bad reasons both the Phantom and Raoul have for loving her. I identify with the genius outcast in the Phantom as well as the generally well-accepted lord of the house in Raoul.

The key is to understand that the characters alone are not the key to understanding their meaning, but the relationships between them. The Phantom doesn’t represent sin as much as he perhaps represents temptation. Sin is the relationship built on delusion between Christine and the Phantom. Christine believed that the Phantom represented her father in some way and also desired her own fame and fortune in his instruction. We may presume that her father would not have desired her to have any contact with the Phantom at all. If you are a Christian and are reading this, isn’t the way our heavenly Father has for us?

Christine’s relationship with Raoul is above board. He loves her and would pursue her into the pits of sin’s lair to rescue her from her captor. In the book, he is jealous of her relationship with the Phantom, but he wouldn’t use underhanded means or threaten the life of the Phantom to force her affections on her. Ultimately, he relies on his moral standing for her affections for him. If anyone could presume to be a representative of her father, Raoul would top the list.

But the nugget of meaning for the human condition I find in the Phantom is in the choice foisted on that Christine by the Phantom. Although she desires to improve herself under the Phantom’s tutelage, it’s become a thing that has her in bondage. Whether she chooses the Phantom or Raoul, her choice promises to be a life without Raoul.

She considers it better that Raoul live and goes free without her than she lives free without Raoul. Therein is the chief point of the matter.

The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t offer the theme of redemption by blood. What it does offer is a picture of the choice we have as sinners in the face of a God who is both just and gracious. It is justice that condemns us to death and separation from him, even in the representation of him in his Son, Jesus Christ.

The key lies in our desire for Christ, for if we don’t have that desire, there is no decision to make. It’s not a question if we would condemn Christ to death, but it is promised that we suffer death no matter what our decision. The question is what kind of death do we suffer? We cannot choose Raoul, as though we were worthy of God’s grace for such is a lie. And we show our disdain for Christ as though we could care less that he would die for us. Although we appear to go free, our life is empty.

"All I want is freedom. A world with no more night."

If we choose the “Phantom”, God’s justice, we are sure to die for we cannot bear God’s judgment. But we honor the sacrifice of our Lord. Even though such is not portrayed in the Phantom of the Opera, we can see how Raoul has left his place on high and come into the depths of the darkness for us. The Phantom cannot hold Christine because he knows he has won her actions, but not her heart.

As such, when we choose God’s judgment we do so because we respect God’s judgment and would suffer loss in light of his integrity. Indeed we suffer this loss because we die to our sins. When we do so, we gain our freedom and life through the righteousness of Christ. Christine gets to leave with Raoul who is there because he loves Christine.

So, it is not a choice we have to follow Christ, but a choice to submit to his righteousness. To do so subjects us to both his judgment and grace.

That is the meaning I see in the Phantom of the Opera.

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