A man by the name of Erik plays the role of the phantom, a man with a disfigured face that wears a mask haunts the Paris opera house. He secretly falls in love with a girl names Christine, and begins to coach her in soprano. He ends up forcing the already lead soprano star to flee from the opera, making room for his precious Christine to step in and take her place. Later, the phantom lures Christine into his home underneath the opera house and confesses his love, only to uncover that it is not returned, and she loves a different man. He orders Christine to break it off with her love to be with him, and she agrees. Later, she attempts to run away with her love, Raoul, only to be kidnapped in the end by the phantom. Raoul and a secret service agent must come to her rescue.
In this movie, we see fear of death, and disfigurement, fear of ghosts, darkness, abandonment. We see the results of childhood trauma, duality of heaven and hell, light and dark, love and hate, redemption and damnation. To keep in mind, during the 1920’s there was a fear or religious upheaval that stemmed in part by new scientific theories and discoveries made by prominent figures, such as Darwin. Thus, Phantom of the Opera plays off fears of hell and damnation (the phantom) as well as the comforts of light and heaven. The two are in direct conflict with one another, indicating the role of religion at the time. Fears of disfigurement and abnormality are seen in the phantom. The movie indicates that ugly indicates different, indicating mental neurosis and mental problems. This lends itself to the stereotyping of the mentally ill, and that they are to be feared. The phantom clearly suffered from mental illness, likely brought on by his life in seclusion and traumatic childhood events (he ran away from home due to his disfigured face).
The theme of childhood trauma is central to Freud, in that he believed all things to stem back to childhood. “When the sadistic male, with the traumatized child inside of him, attacks with cold narcissistic rage and abandonment his disguised vulnerability appears. He becomes threatened the moment that he is exposed from behind the mask that has shielded his narcissism and its inflamed wound” (Kavaler-Adler, 2009, p. 160). Traumas suffered in childhood were often forgotten or “repressed” by the conscious mind only to later dominate the subconscious, manifesting themselves in neurotic behavior or serious mental illness. We can also see the role of the father/daughter in this film. The Phantom, through his coaching of Christine, is like a father figure towards her but at the same time views her as the object of his affections. This could be evidence of his failure to resolve the Oedipus Complex as a child (resolved by identifying with same sex parent), as he now fixates on Christine who resembles his mother. Finally, we see hints of Freudian “ambivalence”, feeling love and hate towards one person at the same time. The phantom loves Christine but becomes consumed in feelings of rage, jealousy, and abandonment when she attempts to leave him. His mixed feelings of love and resentment indicate this ambivalence toward his love object.
The below quote explains the Phantoms incestuous desire for Christine, making reference to the Freudian Oedipus complex to explain these desires. Furthermore, is refers to the night as the unconscious, and the light as the conscious. This directly references the theme central to so much of Freud’s theories. His notion of an unconscious mind, the part of our thoughts that lay hidden to us, and a conscious mind (the thoughts we are aware of having) are clearly evident in the Phantom of the Opera. The Phantoms underworld serves as a metaphor for this “unconsciousness” that he is trying to pull Christine in. Christine represents the world of light and “consciousness”.
“This romance with the muse is so often…a tale of seduction in which the male muse transforms into a dark demon lover. The demon lover can only lead the lady to her death, which he can do as soon as she submits to marriage with him. This marriage always has in its background the incestuous desires for the early symbiotic mother fused with the oedipal father. In Phantom of the Opera, when the muse’s desperation to keep the young woman from leaving him turns his arts from hidden manipulation to overt manic erotic possession, the woman who has been entranced must wake up to save herself from being swallowed up by the dark night of the unconscious. This unconscious can envelop her as her demon lover leads her into a secluded life within the creative process, and away from the outer world of consciousness and light” (Kavaler-Adler, 2009, p. 152).