By Jonathan Decker
Scary but beautiful, lavish but intimate, Gaston Leroux's tragic story of The Phantom of the Opera, as channeled through the vision of playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber, has moved and frightened audiences around the world for over 20 years. The key in its appeal lies in its ability to evoke both sympathy and terror towards its title character, a musical prodigy who has endured loneliness and cruelty due to horrific disfigurement. Lovesick for his muse, an orphaned soprano named Christine, he walks the line between genius and madness as his affection turns to obsession.
As the Phantom, Gerard Butler (PS I Love You, 300) exudes machismo, madness, and sensitivity. He is not a classically trained singer, and as such pales vocally when compared to role-originator Michael Crawford. That said, he carries a tune just fine (if a bit too gruff at times) and what he lacks in training he makes up for in charisma. It's easy to see why young Christine is caught up in her attraction to him.
Speaking of Christine, Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow) gives a superlative performance here, both as a vocalist and as an actress. She has a smoldering chemistry with Butler. As the “nice guy” to the Phantom's “bad boy,” Patrick Wilson (Morning Glory) rounds out the love triangle. He's less interesting than the other two, but he's got a good voice and his tender romance with Rossum nicely counters the ardor she feels towards the Phantom. Supporting performances are solid, including work from the always-excellent Ciaran Hinds (The Woman in Black, Amazing Grace) and a hilarious turn from Minnie Driver (Return to Me, Tarzan) as an arrogant opera diva.
Joel Schumaker's direction is creative and eye-catching, with dynamic use of camera movements, editing, and colors. The sets and wardrobes are stunning. Most importantly, the music soars. Viewers unaccustomed to musicals may get annoyed with the fact that almost every line in the movie is sung, not spoken. Some moments are undeniably melodramatic and even cheesy, but then they also were in the stage play, and many critics were harsh on both. It's bold and theatrical and not the least bit realistic. No matter. This is a powerful story; it's dark and scary yet brimming with humanity and beauty. This film version captures the magic.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Phantom of the Opera is PG-13. Several people are murdered by the Phantom through strangulation, with bodies found hanging or dead on the ground. The Phantom's appearance, once unmasked, is deformed in a way that is both frightening and sad. A man moons a woman. Though never overtly sexual, there is a raw sensuality to the Phantom and Christine's relationship, with her acting breathless and entranced in his presence. Several of the dresses reveal some cleavage.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Infatuation is based on attraction, mystery, and excitement; abiding love has no need to control one's partner, allowing one to feel safe with, cherished, and chosen by them. Cruelty begets cruelty but compassion can change hearts.