Saturday, June 6, 2015

V of the Opera

I’m thinking of a character.

When he was younger, he was horribly mutilated and wears a mask to hide his face. He does not go by his real name. Now he is a musician, of sorts. Though he remains distant from the woman who made him what he is, he sees her again, and shares a unique understanding only they can appreciate. Seeing things he doesn’t like in the world, our character takes matters into his own hands, even going so far as to kill people to send a message to the unlikable, even corrupt rulers of the land. However, even as he commits heinous deeds, he falls in love with a young woman—she touches his heart and forces him to compete for her affections against the familiar faces and morality she is accustomed to. As he makes his last move, he gets what he wants at last at a great cost, and then is seen no more.

via Michigan State Museum and The Unemployed Philosopher's Blog
And who is this masked man? Well, that depends. On the one hand, this sounds an awful lot like Erik, the Phantom of the Opera himself. On the other, V from V for Vendetta fits the bill just as well. I mean, V’s love triangle is not in competition with another man—his opponent for Evey’s heart is society itself, and whether she wants to join his rebellion or accept oppression. Erik’s encounters with dynamite are to threaten Christine, not to free a nation.

But still. They’re oddly similar.

Now, being so similar, you’d expect them to be equally likable characters—but for me, this is not the case. While V is admirable and heroic—a veritable vanquisher of villains—Erik is coarse and disturbing. Why would this be? I mean, they both kidnap their love interests, they kill people, they muck up the opposition. If it’s the actual deeds done, I doubt you could make an argument in favor of one over the other.

So, what is the difference? In a word: character.

Let’s look at Erik. In the book he’s almost the personification of death, kidnapping a beautiful maiden and holding her captive—sounds like a Persephone myth to me. His antics around the opera house show his controlling nature, the way he nearly murders Raoul demonstrates his cruelty, and his relationship with Christine highlights the presence of a selfish desire within.

I’m not saying that we can’t feel bad for Erik. It can’t be too easy for a guy who had never been kissed by his mother, and was wanted dead so he could never replicate his talents. However, his disfigured face resembles his equally disfigured morality. He’s self-serving, isolated, and, physically and morally, a dead man.

via Tumblr
V, on the other hand, is a great advocate for life. Not just any life—life free from regulations and fear. When he kidnaps Evey, it is to save her from the government. A Persephone myth as well? Dark figure brings young woman to his underground land of riches and escape. It could work—but the Hades V projects is not obsessed with the love he’s never had. He is fair in punishment, respectful in death, and giving in nature. He even realizes towards the end that he will not exist in the world he’s created. He passes the choices onto someone who will.

It would be wrong to assume that every one of V’s acts was righteous. Two wrongs still don’t make a right. But when V wears a mask, it is not because he has something to hide, per se. He wears his mask because it has become his true face—not the face of a man, but the face of an idea. This idea is not for his benefit but for the benefit of everyone who will come after. It is to inspire the common man. It is meant to belong to everybody. And the idea cannot die.

via Tumblr
And, funnily enough, he passes the torch onto Evey to bring down the president, Adam—he appoints a mother to return life to a land too long ruled by a man made of dust.

Life and Death. V and Erik. Now, I don’t think death is bad—just as life is not purely good—but in general, I think we tend to value being alive more than we do being dead. That is the beauty of V: even though his physical body dies, he creates something that cannot be killed. He encourages those alive to take a hold of their aliveness, and admires and respects the breath within us all. Unfortunately, Erik can’t claim the same (although he’s got some great musical numbers, if that helps).

via alexw91
Character makes the man. The ideal makes him more. I still love Phantom of the Opera (have you seen the 25th anniversary edition? *loves*), but V for Vendetta? That was a special movie. A breathtaking movie. And a reminder—a mask does not a monster make. 


Have you seen either of these films? Read the books? What did you think? And, now that we’ve thought about V and Erik as characters—what do you think of them? Do you like one better than the other? Why?



You get to pick next week's fangirl post! What do you want to read next week?

16 comments :

  1. V for Vendetta is brilliant. I like how we never got to see his true face, because it doesn't matter who he is behind the mask, he is an idea. We, the rebels, are all V. Loved this analysis, it's my one of my favourites so far. :)

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    1. I agree, I felt like if we had ever seen V's face it would have ruined the whole movie. I am so grateful that Hugo Weaving agreed to it, because as my dad pointed out, for most actors, your face is your trademark. Vive we rebels! :D Thanks for reading, Jo!

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  2. I've never seen V is for Vendetta, but it does sound interesting.

    But I do love Phantom of the Opera. :) I like how you evaluate each of these men. There are similarities, but there are striking differences too and that's what counts.

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    1. Oh, it is a wonderful movie! I'd highly recommend it.

      Phantom of the Opera is also good. :) Their striking differences, as you call them, are really what made my experiences a lot richer, for me, and I really liked that.

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  3. *flails* This is such a deep post but I would like to say I always thought V was messed up and the only reason I stuck around for the movie (and really, for PotO as well) was because of Evie, aka Natalie Portman in the revolution, (or Christine). But yes. That higher goal of bringing an idea to fruition does tend to make a character more compelling.

    Also, I like the idea of a love triangle where the third side is not another person, but society or some similar monolithic abstract concept.

    ... I know what to do! *runs off to write plot bunny*

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    1. *pauses because she never considered that opinion before* But... freedom... and justice... and eggs... D: No, it's totally okay that you didn't like V. XD I really appreciated him as a character, though (read as: I was falling in love with him remarkably fast) and so I really liked the way that his and Evie's stories intertwined.

      I agree! It's very rare that I've seen a love triangle be between people and not-people. Probably because we people tend to fall in love with people, but the concept is still cool.

      *waves at bunny at it hops by, Alyssa at its heels*

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  4. Hmm, interesting post. :) I've never seen V for Vendetta, but I definitely want to now. I always loved Erik as a character, as much for what he could have been as well as what he was (if that sentence makes any sense :P). He has the most beautiful voice ever, and his music is so passionate. He's also super smart, and he has the same basic need as anyone else--love. But he doesn't handle it well at all, and I was fascinated to see how his warped nature played out. I've been disappointed with some of the versions I've seen because they don't portray him properly--they have this rather handsome guy with a mask and a few scars, but he wasn't handsome. He wasn't attractive. That's why I really l liked your point about him being physically and morally a dead man. The symbolism is essential to the story. Anyway, thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. Oh, you'll have to let me know what you think when you watch it! :D Erik had a lot of potential in his character, especially because we can see he is capable of love, as you say with his beautiful voice, his intelligence, and his talents. But he is warped—I like that word. I think that was an argument against the movie; Gerard Butler looks too nice in his suit (that's why I got a GIF from the 25th anniversary play *wink wink*). The movie, in that regard is missing a lot of symbolism. Thanks for reading, Liz!

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  5. I'm only familiar with Phantom of the Opera (heck, I was listening to it this morning, actually) but this is super fascinating. I've always enjoyed laughing at Erik, because he's so dang /dramatic/ all the time, but he's one of the more interesting characters I can think of and you've really explained it better than I could. xD

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    1. *high fives* It's a good musical, no? Erik does have that drama, doesn't he? He definitely has multiple layers to his character, which totally adds to the way we perceive him onstage.

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  6. I know nothing about either of these films, but they most sound interesting :)

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    1. I highly recommend you watch them both! :D

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  7. Interesting thoughts, Heather! I hadn't considered deeply the similarities between these two characters and it was an interesting process thinking about my own thoughts on them both as I read this. I've watched the film/musical versions of these but never read the books (I didn't know Phantom was from a book), so I have to base my ideas on the characters from those, and the truth is that as villainous and possibly insane as he is, I love the Phantom. V just didn't work for me, though I love how you wrote about the story- it certainly made me think more about who he was than I ever had before. But the Phantom is so great, to me (plus he singssss), and I have always loved him over Raoul (whom I find incredibly irritating). I don't agree with any of the things he does, but I definitely am passionate about the character.
    Great post!
    Romi @ wherethewritercomestowrite.blogspot.com

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    1. They're different at first sight, no? It's worth thinking about your feelings on them, in my opinion. :) Phantom of the Opera is definitely a book! (I'm told it's a classic.) The Phantom is a much more popular character for my audience than I realized! I liked V much more, as I mentioned, but I imagine different people value different things. Raoul is... an interesting person. I mean, I'm glad Christine ends up with him, but still, he has some downsides. Thanks for stopping by, Romi!

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  8. This is really interesting. I know the basic plot of Phantom of the Opera and I've seen most of V for Vendetta (long story involving switching English classes) I just read Wonder by R J Palacio, which was about peoples responses to facial scarring, and It think it's one of the things where simplicity works really well. I loved the discussion of morality in this post
    -Shanti

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    1. You should see it allllll. :D Huh, that sounds really interesting! I think I'd like to read that book. Simplicity is an interesting thought. Thanks for reading, Shanti!

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