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|
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.
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.
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).