A Psychoanalyst Looks At THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: A Girl Who Can’t Grieve Her Dead Father

Loss can be a dead place. If you move forward, you’ll know the person you love is gone. As I sat spell bound in the Majestic Theater watching the brilliant performances of James Barbour as Phantom and Julia Udine as Christine Daad, I knew that The Phantom Of The Opera isn’t only the story of a bitter, jealous, love-starved freak that believes he can only get love by possession and threat. At a much deeper level, it’s the story of an orphaned girl in the grips of a phantom father. A father she can’t grieve.

When a loved one dies, mourning is necessary to go on. What happens when you can’t say goodbye? Sometimes, a seductive phantom-like voice takes over inside your mind, a voice that kidnaps you away from life. Wraps you in his seemingly comforting words: “Stay with me. You won’t be hurt again.” This voice is the Phantom’s in Music Of The Night. If Christine stays with Phantom, she retreats from the risks of love, from knowing her father is gone.

The Phantom Of The Opera tells the story, throughout all of its most important songs, of just such a retreat from sadness and grief. We see Christine’s struggle between the Phantom and Raoul, between turning her back on reality or turning towards feeling and life.

When Christine is reunited with Raoul (Jeremy Hays), her childhood friend, their memories threaten to bring back reality. In Little Lotte, they reminisce. Christine remembers Father playing the violin, that she loved being asleep in her bed as “the angel of music sings songs in my head”. She tells Raoul that Father promised to send the angel of music to her when he was in heaven. “Well, father is dead, Raoul. And I have been visited by the angel of music.”

The angel of music is Phantom, and with this memory we hear his voice, critical of Raoul, seducing Christine with his song. There couldn’t be a clearer link between Phantom and Christine’s father. Her father, with his violin, was a man of music too. Phantom, then, is her dead angel father – her angel of music. To keep her father with her, she must choose the Phantom over Raoul.

Raoul, who represents new love, life, going on, after a significant loss – is now in a fight with the phantom/father who has a hold on Christine that’s almost impossible to break. In Why Have You Brought Me Here, Raoul, Christine shows Raoul she can’t escape. Not yet. Her phantom/father is too powerfully here/there, just as The Phantom Of The Opera is – inside her mind.

That seductive voice inside the mind tells you that retreating from life is the best option. Living means feeling your sadness. Christine can’t; although, in some ways she knows sadness is there. She sees it in Phantom: “I’ve been there to his world of unending night … yet in his eyes is all the sadness in the world.”

Christine’s terrified of the enormity of her sadness. She’s drawn into darkness to try to avoid it. The Phantom, by forcing Christine to sing his beautiful music, turns away from the sadness and trauma of his lonely life, too. Yet, the sadness is never truly gone, even for those seduced into a dark, depressive retreat. Some stay in that deadened place. Others, finally, are able to grieve.

Christine is pulled in two different directions. In All I Ask Of You, she longs for Raoul’s love, needs his reassurance that he’ll love her “every waking moment” and won’t leave her. Yet, the Phantom has his stronghold. Presenting himself as her friend and protector from the “light of day” – from feeling her sadness and fear of loss. It’s a terrible battle.

But, Christine’s desire for life and Raoul’s love proves stronger. With Raoul’s help (as a good therapist would do), she begins to take a stand against the Phantom: that voice inside her mind. She tells the Managers of the Opera that she will not play the role assigned to her by Phantom. The fight against her fears doesn’t die easily.

Madame Giry (Linda Balgord) is that voice of fear.  She warns not to go against the Phantom. Says there’s no way to stop the Phantom’s reign of terror inside Christine’s mind. In therapy, I would help Christine sort out the reasons why that internal voice wants to make her believe it’s best to turn away from sadness. Like Phantom, it convinces her it’s the voice of reality. It never is.

At last, in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again (with Phantom on a bridge above as though he’s her father in heaven), Christine begins to mourn her father. She misses him. She admits his death shattered her world. She knows she wants to hear his voice again, but also that she never will. And, she finally accepts that fighting back her tears does not help her: “no more silent tears … Help me say, “Goodbye.”

Saying “Goodbye” is what will allow Christine to go on with life. But, still, Wandering Child plagues her with the questions: Is the Phantom Angel or Father? Friend or Phantom? In Point Of No Return, she almost succumbs to the seduction of staying in her “dungeon of black despair” so she doesn’t have to say, “Goodbye.” But, she must leave it. She must cry.

In crying, in grieving, the Phantom voice inside her loses its power. She feels her father’s absence, he’s not coming back – and kisses the Phantom compassionately goodbye. The Phantom is also Christine herself – the sad, young girl with too much loss, a young girl who needs to know she’s loved. To know, too, that she is not alone.

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