Movie Review - The Phantom of the Opera

This movie has been reviewed in our new format and rating system.  To see the new review, click here.

Joel Schumacher
Warner Bros. Pictures

for brief violent images


Quick quiz for you—multiple choice: When are fornication, adultery, seduction, stalking, sexual grooming, obsession, sadism and masochism, public nudity, incestuous behaviors and statutory rape acceptable? A) All the time. B) Most of the time. Or, C) None of the time. It’s not a trick question; you can give different answers for some of the behaviors listed in the question, if you want to. Next question: When can an individual morally—biblically—legitimize first-degree murder on the grounds that sin proceeds from flaws in the killer’s society and environment? A) All the time. B) Most of the time. Or, again, C) None of the time. When does human love redeem people from sin? Same choices. Last one: When is it acceptable to rejoice in a movie that answered A or B to all of those questions?

Just checking.

If there is one word to basically sum up what The Phantom of the Opera is—or should have been—it’s “spectacular.” The sets are sumptuous, the subplots are intricate, the romance is sweet, the atmosphere is oh-so-Parisian—and let’s face it, nothing boring ever made it on Broadway. But I think we could also safely admit that Broadway doesn’t usually run its production list past Christians to make sure the morality and worldview are 100% acceptable to the God fearers in the audience. “Spectacular,” Broadway’s Phantom definitely is. Concerned for the heart, soul, mind and strength of Christians who happen to like spectacular things? That’s not a trick question, either. Read some of the review, and then you tell me.

Sexual Content:
Another question: How many songs about illicit sex do you think we should be allowed, before we have to reign in our own passions and say that the talent of the singers isn’t enough to make the subject matter—or the choreography—acceptable to us, as Christian men and women? You know, there’s a line from the movie that gives Broadway’s answer. “Who’d believe a diva happy to relieve a chorus girl who’s gone and slept with the patron? Raoul and the soubrette, entwined in love’s duet! You’d never get away with all this in a play, but if it’s loudly sung and in a foreign tongue, it’s just the sort of story audiences adore, in fact a perfect opera!” Yes, music is that powerful. Do you know how you determine whether the music has succeeded in glorifying an inappropriate message? You imagine the scene without the music—and you pay attention to the words.

Phantom - “You have come here in pursuit of your deepest urge. I have brought you that our passions may fuse and merge. In your mind you’ve already succumbed to me—dropped all defenses—completely succumbed to me. Abandon thought, and let the dream descend! What raging fire shall flood the soul? What rich desire unlocks its door? What sweet seduction lies before us? The final threshold! What warm, unspoken secrets will we learn, beyond the point of no return?”
Christine - “In my mind I’ve already imagined our bodies entwining. Past all thought of right or wrong. One final question—how long should we two wait, before we’re one? When will the blood begin to race? When will the flames at last consume us?

And that’s not the first seduction song.

Phantom - “Night time sharpens—heightens—each sensation. Darkness stirs and wakes imagination. Silently the senses abandon their defenses. Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams. Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before. Floating, folding, sweet intoxication. Touch me, trust me. Savor each sensation. Let the dream begin, let your darker side give into the power of the music of the night.”

If you’re already familiar with the movie, you already know how often Christine vacillates between uncertainty and siren-like behavior, just during these two songs. You already know how the movie focuses on the Phantom caressing sixteen-year-old Christine’s breasts, abdomen, hips and bare thighs; and you may even have noticed that, the more physically violent his embrace gets, and the more ominous the tone of the music, the more erotic pleasure Christine manifests. You saw her smiling as the Phantom leads her toward his bedroom, and then, between the two songs, you heard her other love interest, Raoul, trying to convince her, “Whatever you may believe, this man—this thing—is not your father!”
Other things you may remember seeing, if you’re familiar with this movie, would include the bare breasts of twenty-some statues of naked women, the bare buttocks of a stagehand, and our sweet little Christine dressed in a bad-girl negligee and thigh-high stockings… with the Phantom running his hands all over her body, of course.

It’s amazing, isn’t it?—all the sins (crimes, even) that the Phantom can get away with just because he’s an Opera Ghost in an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, and not, say, a high-school music teacher in this morning’s headlines. Take this hypothetical music teacher and find him guilty of what we would now technically call statutory rape or child sexual abuse (see above), as well as kidnapping (both persuasive and coercive) and stalking (jealousy, surveillance, harassment, a life-size wax replica of the victim and even a one-way mirror from his hideout into her bedroom); and then find out that we have recordings confirming his psychological manipulation and mental abuse of his young student (“My power over you grows stronger yet. And though you turn from me to glance behind, the Phantom of the Opera High-School Music Teacher is there, inside your mind.”). Then, discover that he’s also being brought up on charges of sabotage (the chandelier incident, for example), extortion (demanding the use of box 5, the casting of his star pupil in a lead role, and 20,000 unearned francs a month, or “a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.”), evading the police, and—oh, yes, three separate counts of murder.
Now imagine that this man admits to the crimes, but pleads not-guilty (“Why, you ask, was I bound and chained in this cold and dismal place? Not for any mortal sin, but the ‘wickedness’ of my abhorrent face!”), and that the liberal media plays him as a victim, because he has a physical deformity, was abused as a child, had actually felt some kind of affection for the sixteen-year-old girl he abused, and is now redeemed from his sin by her affection for him. Reaction, please? Is the proper, biblical reaction, “Hurrah for the liberal media!”? Relief, when you find out that the criminal escaped from custody, and is now on the loose? “Track down this murderer, he must be found!”? This is an essay question, so go ahead and fill in the blank with whatever answer you think appropriate.
Now, return to The Phantom of the Opera. The crimes are all exactly the same. So what’s the proper, biblical reaction to the character? Your answer should be the same, shouldn’t it?

What about the rest of the movie?

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the filmmakers didn’t mean for you to walk away appalled by the fact that the Phantom escapes from the police, nor by the fact that Christine and Raoul’s pity for his disfigurement overrides their concern to see him brought to justice for his crimes1; nor by the fact that Christine feels that the only way to save Raoul’s life is to kiss the Phantom… passionately… multiple times. The situations may have some negative overtones, but the movie isn’t designed to make us wish that things happened differently, is it? If the audience really wanted things to happen differently—Christine being a woman of virtue, rather than a lustful Stockholm syndrome2 victim; the Phantom either being a man of virtue, himself, or else actually portrayed as deserving punishment for his criminal acts; the story built on a biblical worldview, rather than a Marxist, humanist platform—there’s no way the movie could have been “spectacular” enough to make up for its immorality. And the thing is, it’s not, is it?

As Christians, we’re allowed to really love spectacular art, and I believe that includes movies and musicals. We’re allowed to take pleasure in great singing, and delight in beautiful romances. There are a number of things about The Phantom of the Opera that, taken by themselves, we are completely justified in enjoying. But you read the review. You know about the other content this movie is asking you to enjoy. And you know your own priorities as a Christian. When will a movie as pervasively immoral as The Phantom of the Opera help you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? A) All the time. B) Most of the time. C) None of the time. How often will sets, subplots, romance and talented singers fix the problems in The Phantom’s content and worldview? A) All the time. B) Most of the time. Or, C) None of the time. When is it fun to have to give up an intriguing movie? None of the time, I know. When is it worth it? You tell me.

As for my own decision, I am wholeheartedly sympathetic with the desire to find and enjoy really spectacular movies, but I am just as wholeheartedly persuaded that the immorality of The Phantom of the Opera covers too much of the movie for enjoying only the moral scenes to be possible. As far as I can see, the choice comes down to actually enjoying the immorality, or avoiding the movie.

1 "But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you." Deuteronomy 19:11-13, English Standard Version
2 the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.

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