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The Phantom of the Opera: Comparing & Contrasting Gaston Leroux's Book to the Movie Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musical

 The Phantom of the Opera Plot Summary

Originally written as a serial story for the Le Gaulois newspaper, The Phantom of the Opera was released as a novel in March 1910.  It remains as captivating today as it was then thanks, in part, to the enticing score composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber that debuted in 1986.  In 2004, Joel Schumaker's film adaptation of the musical provided a chance for everyone to experience this thrilling and chilling romance. 

Phantom of the Opera Cover

The Phantom of the Opera
is a gothic tale about a deformed musical genius who "haunts" the Paris Opera House.  He lives in a secret lair of his own creation by a lake in the deepest recesses of the opera.  The Phantom, whose real name is Erik, becomes obsessed with Christine Daaé, and under his tutelage, he prepares her to be the next prima donna of the opera in place of the current soprano, Carlotta.  

Thinking the Phantom is the Angel of Music her father promised to send her when he went to heaven, Christine blindly submits herself to his authority and demands.  When the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny renews his childhood love with Christine, the Phantom is enraged with jealousy, which leads to further acts of madness and violence in an attempt to claim her for his own.  Christine finds herself caught in a love triangle, torn between a love from her youth who offers her safety, financial security, and social status and a man whose music fills her soul with ecstasy and offers the thrill of forbidden romance.

1.  The Two Phantoms' Appearance & Christine's Reaction to Them

According to Leroux's account, Erik is hideously deformed with a "death head," he has bony hands, a skeletal frame, and deep socketed, glowing yellow eyes.  He is corpse-like and smells of death.  He simultaneously exudes self-assurance that Christine will learn to see past his deformity (despite her suicide attempt) while uttering a litany of insecurities. 

The son of a contractor, a young Erik eventually flees to work in fairs and caravans before building trick palaces in other countries prior to starting his own construction company, which is hired to work on the opera's foundation. 

The 2004 movie version featuring Gerard Butler depicts the Phantom as a very virile and sexy man whose deformity could easily be overlooked!  In this account, he is abused as a circus freak until an adolescent Madame Giry rescues him and hides him in the opera's remote labyrinth.  

Would you follow this man?  Yes!

Though he can be enraged and display immense strength, Leroux's version is often weeping at Christine's feet and begging for her love, and her pity of him is one reason he ultimately releases her--he doesn't want to merely be "a dog ready to die for her."  Who wants a partner to stay with them out of pity?  He wants to be loved for himself.  

In the movie, Erik is a dominating force whose masculinity, sex appeal, and charm captivates Christine.  His songs to her are like foreplay, and she willingly succumbs to his aggressive and confident advances.

Gerard Butler at organ in Phantom of the Opera
The hopeful look you get when you've finally lured the woman you love into your house.

Why does Christine unmask the Phantom? 

Curiosity is what initially compels her to see what the mask is hiding.  She has to see the face behind the magnificent voice. The book makes it clear that the Phantom wants to keep her prisoner because he fears she'll never return to him of her own volition, since she will no longer be able to imagine him as handsome; however, she vows to come back, and she keeps her promise.  

Gerald Butler unmasked in Phantom of the Opera
Christine must know the face that belongs to the voice.

Christine unmasks the Phantom a second time in the movie, just at the climax of their passionate rendition of The Point of No Return, and her motives are perplexingly unclear.  On one hand, she assures him in song that she has decided on him and isn't turning back.  She voices her desire by admitting she's dreamed of their "bodies entwining," she asks how long before they can be "one," and she wants the "flames" to at last "consume" them.  It's irrelevant that she's singing the words Erik penned for the opera--it's clear he knows her deepest thoughts and desires and is simply helping her release them. It seems like a cruel tease when she tears his mask off in front of such a large audience.  Whether you love someone or pity them, you protect and shield them--not expose and humiliate them.  

Christine unmasks the Phantom
Unmasking Erik in front of everyone seems so cruel.

The only explanation for her behavior is that she finds herself so spellbound by him that the only way she can break free from his irresistible force is to be reminded of who he really is behind the mask. Maybe when Erik sings a portion of All I Ask of You it reminds her of Raoul uttering the same words and jolts her from her fantasy. 

In both renditions, it's Christine's kiss that grants her freedom.  In the book, she tolerates Erik lifting his mask to kiss her forehead.  She kisses his forehead too, and their tears mingle.  The kissing is much more passionate in the movie.  Never having known a woman's kiss, let alone "joys of the flesh," Christine's compassion triggers the Phantom's mercy--he loves her enough to set her free.   

Gerard Butler & Emmy Rossum Kiss
What woman wouldn't want to be in Emmy Rossum's place right now?

2.  The Phantom is Forgivable

Although the Phantom engages in condemnable acts, both readers and viewers sympathize with his character.  The agony, darkness, and isolation he's experienced as a result of his physical impairment makes him the victim, thereby justifying his vengeful behaviors and allowing him to sing his way into our hearts.

In both accounts, the Phantom uses mind control to manipulate Christine.  He initially pretends to be the Angel of Music her father promised to send to her in order to gain her trust and obedience.  Again, we forgive him for this because from his perspective, it is probably the only means at his disposal to earn her attention and possible affection.  He eventually tells her the truth!

Gerard Butler Phantom
Gerard Butler--our Angel of Music.  Butler only has 14 lines of dialogue in the movie.  He sings the rest.

In the book, Erik plans to drown Raoul and the Persian leading Christine's rescue (the Persian isn't mentioned in the movie--Madame Giry's character fills the void).  He relents when Christine promises to marry him and be his "living bride."  

Christine vows to be Erik's living bride.
This scene didn't make the cut for the movie because the doll bride looked too unreal.  Instead, they had Rossum stand very still when they needed a shot of the doll version of Christine.

Raoul is almost hanged by Erik in the movie, but Christine slides Erik's ring onto her finger, signifying her commitment, and it secures Raoul's freedom.  Even though we know eliminating his competition through such heinous acts is beyond reprehensible, our hearts hurt for Erik.  His circumstances place him in a very tormented state, and we can't begrudge him for seeking happiness by any means necessary.  

Even though Erik's methods of courtship appear sinister, deceptive, and unscrupulous, we understand all that he does regarding Christine springs from love.  She knows it too.  In the book she says he fills her with horror, but she does not hate him.  Love drives Erik, and it is redeeming.

3.  Torn Between Two Loves

People always love an underdog, and a foundational element in all of our relationships is to be loved for ourselves.  We want Christine to choose Erik over Raoul on purpose, just like when Belle loved the Beast despite his outward appearance.  True beauty comes from inside a person.  In the book, Erik says he's tired of living as he does.  He wants a wife and a place to live outside the opera house, just like normal people.  Who can fault him?  Despite how hateful society can be, with Christine as his wife, anything could be possible.

Gerard Butler is the Angel of Music
Christine petitions her Angel of Music to show himself.

Christine certainly has more in common with Erik--their music knits their souls together, lifting them both to lofty heights of sheer ecstasy.  With his genius and her voice, they could spend their lives together doing what they love most.  He adores her.  She understands him and is mesmerized by his singing.  One would think the longer she's with him, the less she'd remember the face under the mask.  It's why, in the book, he promises to release her after five days of further training because he's confident she will have learned not to see him as he is by the end of that time.  Or, as the movie Phantom assures himself in the song Stranger Than You Dreamed It, "Fear can turn to love. You'll learn to seek to find the man behind the monster." 

In the book, even Raoul questions Christine's love when she claims to be frightened of Erik yet returns to him repeatedly.  She says it's not his threats that keep her coming back but Erik's sobs that attach her to him.  She thinks her visits to Erik will calm him, but they actually make him go madder with love.  

In the movie, Raoul watches with horror and disbelief the "passion play" that takes place between Erik and Christine during The Point of No Return, and in the book, his doubt manifests when he asks Christine, "If Erik were good-looking, would you love me, Christine?"  Raoul accurately assesses, "Your fear, your terror, all of that is just love and love of the most exquisite kind, the kind which people do not admit even to themselves.  The kind that gives you a thrill, when you think of it."  The Point of No Return masterfully captures Raoul's sentiments.

Try as he might, Raoul doesn't have the same chemistry with Christine as Erik.

What does Christine see in Raoul anyway?  The movie doesn't include Raoul's older brother, Philippe, but in the book, it's obvious Philippe doesn't approve of their union.  Christine is beneath their class.  Raoul is portrayed as young, weak, and immature in the novel, so we have to wonder why Christine picks him anyway.  Raoul might be a happy reminder of the carefree days of her childhood when her father was still alive, but his pursuit of her is youthful and clumsy and tinged with false bravado.  

Erik, on the other hand, is the passage to Christine's womanhood.  His music is passionate, alluring, exciting, and dark.  Erik is the "older man" with a magnetic and provocative persona who has learned what it takes to make a woman feel alive and satisfied, and his maturity, masculinity, expertise, and cunning only cause Raoul to look painfully pale, awkward, and somewhat feminine. It appears that Christine can't even admit to herself how she feels about Erik, and her protests to Raoul ring hollow. 

Christine is so unstable and conflicted that you find yourself wondering what both men see in her.  When she's with Raoul, she pledges to love him. Yet, Erik captivates her and awakens something deep and primal within her.  This is more obvious in the movie, when she "savors each sensation" Erik gives her.

Why is Christine so double-minded?  It seems the author's intention is for Christine and Raoul to be childhood sweethearts who rekindle their love.  Perhaps Leroux wants us to believe the Phantom's use of psychological manipulation to gain her affection is disingenuous and wouldn't cause love to otherwise spring from her heart of its own accord. The book also points to the Phantom's voice as being so intermingled with the memory of her father that Christine is willing to sacrifice anything to keep it from leaving her.  She says, "I feared nothing so much as that I might never hear it again."

Ramin Karimloo as Christine Daaé's father in The Phantom of the Opera
Fun fact:  Ramin Karimloo is pictured here as Christine's father.  Karimloo has also played both Raoul and the Phantom.

Either way, it is a huge letdown and bitter pill for readers and viewers that Christine doesn't ultimately pick the man who is the better soul mate simply due to his appearance.  It makes her look shallow and easily swayed.  Since music is her passion, Erik is the obvious choice to help her become her best.  Raoul flees with her and isn't heard from again (in the book), showing no apparent concern for her career aspirations.   

4.  The Endings Are the Most Different

The movie has a very dramatic ending.  The opera's chandelier crashes onto the stage, catches the place on fire, and turns it into ashen ruins.  The Phantom sets Christine and Raoul free, and Christine returns Erik's ring.  Erik tragically laments that his life is over.  Christine is the only one who can make his music "take flight," so not only has he lost the woman he loves, the "music of the night" is gone, too. He grieves because he has no more hope, and he disappears before anyone can find him.

Gerard Butler, with the Phantom's deformity exposed, parting scene
Such a heart-wrenching scene from the movie.

The book is different.  Erik requires Christine to wear a gold band, symbolizing her commitment to him.  She loses the ring, and when Erik eventually finds it, he gives it to her to wear in her marriage to Raoul.  He just asks that she come back when she hears of his death, put the ring on his finger, and bury him near the well where he first held her in his arms when she'd fainted.  Eric predicts he will soon "die of love."

The movie's ending shows Christine's grave, years later.  Raoul brings the organ grinder to place by her headstone and is shocked to see a red rose encircled with ribbon already there--from the Phantom.  He yet lives!

5.  Other Nuanced Differences

Webber's theatrical interpretation closely parallels the novel.  Both works are gripping in their own right.

A few minor differences include the following:

  • Madame Giry isn't much of a mother figure in the novel.  Christine has a benefactress she calls Mamma Valérius.
  • Christine pretends not to recognize Raoul when she first sees him at the theater because it could cause the "voice" to leave her.  In the movie, it's Raoul who appears not to notice her initially.

  • When Carlotta "croaks" like a toad in the movie, it's because the Phantom has exchanged her throat spray for something that ruins her voice.  In the book, Erik's mastery of ventriloquism allows him to throw his voice to Carlotta to make her sound like she's croaking. 
  • During the graveyard scene when Christine finds her father's tombstone, the movie alludes that she's saying goodbye to him to end the Angel of Music's power over her.  In the book, she heads to the graveyard because the Phantom has promised to play The Resurrection of Lazarus at midnight on her father's tomb and on his violin. 
Christine at graveyard in Phantom of the Opera
  • In the book, Erik has a torture chamber in his underground home that the Persian and Raoul fall into and narrowly escape.
  • In the book, Erik plans to blow up the entire opera house if Christine refuses to marry him.  This is avoided in the book, but the opera house burns down in the movie.
  • In the movie, Raoul encourages Christine to sing in one more opera because he has set a trap for Erik.  Erik remains one step ahead of him and already has his own trap prepared for his "prey."  In the novel, the Phantom and Christine do not sing together.  She is the one who insists, despite Raoul's protests, to sing one more time as her parting gift to Erik.  However, when she sings the fitting line from Faust that says, Holy angel, in Heaven blessed.  My spirit longs with thee to rest!" the place goes dark, and when the lights come back on, Christine is missing from the stage.  
  • Erik and Raoul are pitted against each other as rivals, but Raoul doesn't shoot and injure the Phantom in the movie like he does in the book.
In the movie, Christine must choose to either end her days with Erik or send Raoul to his grave. 
  • Christine tries to kill herself in the book but not the movie.
  • There's a narrator in the book who tries to make the tale look like an investigation, even though the gothic romance overshadows the mystery.
The nuanced differences between the book and the musical do nothing to compromise the heart and soul of this tragic and compelling love story.

Would You Choose the Phantom or Raoul, If You Were Christine?

When you read Leroux's novel, you might want Christine to choose Erik, but you can understand from the ghastly description of the Phantom's corpse-like character why she would be revolted.
The movie makes it harder to justify Christine's decision.  Gerard Butler is just too sexy!  Think back to the Masquerade scene when he appears with his finished opera, Don Juan Triumphant.  As he dictates his expectations for the performance, he acknowledges Christine as the star and asserts if she wants to excel, there's more she must learn--if pride will let her return to him, her teacher.  Despite his tough and commanding exterior, it's at this point, his eyes and face fill with so much love and adoration, mingled with insecurity and longing, that you desperately yearn for Christine to love him back.

Gerard Butler as Red Death
Masque of Red Death is a character Gaston Leroux borrows from a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. 

Music of the Night also sizzles.  The Phantom uses his voice to caress her.  His words expose that her soul longs to be with him, and if she lets it carry her away, she can belong to him.  He takes her hand and strokes his face, urging her to touch him and trust him so they can both experience the intoxication that results.

Phantom of the Opera-Music of the Night
Christine learns that Erik is all man and savors the sensation of his touch.

The Point of No Return is the most sensuous song of all.  The Phantom knows Christine better than she knows herself.  He accurately voices that she has a deep urge for him, if she'll admit it.  The Phantom has decided that it's time to take their relationship to the next level. He's done with "games of make-believe," which means he's no longer pretending to be her Angel of Music.  He's a man--Erik--and he wants her for his own. It's time for their passion, both musically and physically, to "fuse and merge."  

The fact that Christine has shown up to participate in his "passion play" proves she's willing to abandon her inhibitions, capitulate to desire, surrender, and finally be his.  She's ready to exchange the daydreams she's entertained about him for the real thing. Between the two of them, a fire rages (Erik says in the book that Don Juan Triumphant is a story that "burns"), and his talk of the "sweet seduction" thrills them both.  They are at the "final threshold" because after this, nothing will come between them.  From now on, the intimacy they share will include all the secrets they will learn about each other.  Christine no longer cares whether it's wrong or wrong--she chooses him.  

Phantom of the Opera:  The Point of No Return
The Phantom tantalizes Christine with thoughts of the sweet seduction awaiting them.

The song segues into a portion of All I Ask of You where we see the Phantom's confidence and commanding presence melt into vulnerability.  He's sweet and gentle with Christine, and his song begs her to not let their love be one-sided.  He wants her to share his love, stay by his side forever, and lead him away from a life of loneliness and despair.  As the book would state it, he just wants her to love him for himself!

Gerard Butler does a magnificent job capturing the emotional turmoil the Phantom experiences.  Erik can be strong, self-assured, masterful, sardonic, seductive, and dangerous one moment and then loving, endearing, romantic, tearful, humble, subservient, and tender the next.  Butler skillfully channels this gambit of emotions through his facial expressions, movements, and voice characterizations.  Truly, there has never been a better Phantom!

One thing is certain:  whether you experience The Phantom of the Opera on screen, at the theater, or via the novel, it's a consuming and haunting story that won't release your heartstrings quickly.  You can't accept the ending. The tragic tale sticks with you and leaves you naggingly and delightfully dissatisfied because you know Erik and Christine belong together.

The Point of No Return
Anywhere you go, let me go too.

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