The Phantom of the Opera: Love Never Dies
I had almost forgotten that I promised to talk about Love Never Dies in my discussion of the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film. Maybe I had blocked it out of my memory. Regardless, folks who are sick of hearing me complain about Gerard Butler’s Phantom can be happy that there is something I dislike even more.
Love Never Dies isn’t actually an adaptation of Gerard Leroux’s classic story but rather a sequel to the 1986 musical – fitting, since the novel all but states that the Phantom dies shortly after Christine leaves him, while the musical leaves his end more ambiguous. Andrew Lloyd Webber had discussed the idea of a follow-up to the play with Frederick Forsyth, and the early vision of what would become Love Never Dies can be found in the novel The Phantom of Manhattan.
Love Never Dies came out in 2010 and met with very poor reviews from both critics and fans. In terms of production, it was big and gaudy like the original musical but lacked the musical excellence, technical expertise, and heart that the first play had.
In terms of plot, well…I guess you could say it would have made halfway decent fan-fiction.
Maybe it’s the influence of the Twilight novels on the market or just the way people’s heads have been wired for years, but there is definitely an obsession in America (and possibly the rest of the world) with turning monsters into sex symbols. Love Never Dies goes back to the relationship that Christine and the Phantom had, blatantly ignoring the fact that there was kidnap, torture, and (in some interpretations) possible rape involved. The Phantom and Christine are now destined for one another, and now years after the original story they are reunited again.
Of course, such a reunion is pretty difficult given the fact that Christine ran off with the love of her life Raoul de Chagny at the end of the previous story. So what does this play do? Does it kill Raoul off? Does it give Christine a tough decision to face about which man she truly loves? Nope, it turns Raoul into a drunken, abusive asshole who leaves near the end of the play.
The play commits two major sins. First, by turning the Phantom into the card-carrying good guy and making Raoul a complete ass, it removes the complexity of the original story. The heart of the character is the fact that he has been unloved for so long that he has at least partially become the monster people see him as. Christine manages to redeem him to an extent, but the fact that years of being unloved have transformed him into a monster is key to the complexity of the character,
Second, by turning Raoul into a drunken abuser, the play removes the emotional complexity that the original story and its adaptations have had. The Phantom of the Opera isn’t about the guy in the mask – it’s about Christine and the difficult choices she has to make. Were the Phantom all good or all bad, it would make her decision extremely easy. Instead, the suspense of the story relies on the fact that she’s stuck in a difficult place. In fact, the original story’s resolution hinges on her ability to overcome this problem through her own love and mercy, saving both the Phantom and Raoul through her ability to love a person who has become so damaged.
Love Never Dies does away with all that complexity. It’s a straight love story between the Phantom and Christine, and it entirely relies on the audience’s ability to forget that the Phantom kidnapped her repeatedly years ago – or, worse, it relies on the audience believing that the type of abuse he put her through is romantic and not villainous.
The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic tale, and Love Never Dies aspires to be as well. But its tragedy is far less personal because there’s no real meat to these characters. The play ends when Christine gets shot and the Phantom is left with the consolation prize of raising their son – a child which of whom he is the father. And that, I think, is the biggest sin this play has: instead of celebrating Christine’s strength at dealing with circumstances which should be far beyond her ability to endure, it reduces her to a chess piece to be moved between the Phantom and Raoul. Christine isn’t a person here – she’s a prize to be won, and when she’s gone the Phantom is handed a kid as a silver medal.
Throughout my discussions of The Phantom of the Opera and its adaptations, one thing has remained very clear: this is a hard story to handle. The original story was published more than 100 years ago, and for my money it hasn’t been matched. Adaptations have either turned the Phantom into too much of a monster or made him too sympathetic. Love Never Dies doesn’t even bother with any sort of real complexity, and that is why it is probably the biggest failure among the adaptations and expansions of Leroux’s original work.
I’m hoping that one day a version of the Phantom that does Leroux’s original story justice will eventually come about. However, the first thing that would need to happen in such a tale would be that the creators would need to put aside the desire to simplify things for the audience. The Phantom is a romantic, mysterious figure. That doesn’t make him a good guy. His actions don’t make him purely evil, either. He’s somewhere in between, capable of great love but even greater villainy, and it takes a strong character who is willing to accept him without condoning his actions to get through to him.