A Few Notes about Movie-Raoul…

I’ll get to my post about Christine eventually.  But there is a lot of material to ponder and organize (and edit) because there is a lot more to her personality than meets the eye.  So everyone waiting for the Christine post, hang in there!

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I was not impressed with Raoul the first time I saw the 2004 film.  He did the right thing at the end of the day, but he wasn’t dynamic; and the instances he was didn’t make a whole lot of sense *coughthegraveyardswordfightcough*.  Film-Raoul came nowhere near Hadley Fraser’s complex, dynamic, and sincere portrayal.  (I have since learned that just because an actor isn’t Hadley Fraser doesn’t mean his portrayal of Raoul is wrong.  🙂 )

Having seen the 2004 film way too many times, and sometimes observing only Raoul and his demeanor and dialogue, I have changed my opinion of and Patrick Wilson’s acting abilities.  In fact, it’s remarkable that he came across as earnestly as he did, because Movie-Raoul could have been—and should have been—a stronger character.

I’m not sure if filmmakers didn’t care about developing Raoul’s personality or if they deliberately strengthened (in a way) the Phantom’s character and didn’t bother to improve Raoul’s.  Or if something simply got lost in translation.  However it happened, Movie-Raoul is weak compared to the stage show counterpart.

One problem is that many of Raoul’s lines and scenes were cut, starting in the song “Prima Donna”.  The lines “Why did Christine fly from my arms?” and “Is this her angel of music?  Angel or madman? … Christine must be protected!” are gone.  Instead, the film shows him in the chapel, saying: “Christine spoke of an angel…” and in the next shot, he strides out of the chapel singing, “Orders!  Warnings!  Lunatic demands!  I must see these demands are rejected!”—without specifying that his motive was to protect Christine.  Now, since the film established Raoul’s status as patron of the opera, he might feel responsible for what goes on there.  But if that was the intent, the removal of those lines adds a quality to his character that has nothing to do with the story.

Moving on to Act II, in the stage show, we see Raoul reacting in horror and amazement to Madame Giry’s tale, and connecting the dots between her information and Christine’s fears that night on the rooftop.  In the film, both these aspects are missing—Madame Giry’s story is told in a flashback montage, and while this was a good cinematic choice (stage blocking would not have worked well), it cuts further action and reaction from Raoul.

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The filmmakers did give Raoul an interesting line: “But clearly, Madame Giry, genius has turned to madness.”  On the one hand, he doesn’t deny the genius, just points out that the Phantom misused it.  Madame Giry reluctantly agrees.  But on the other hand, this line makes Raoul the only character in the film* to call the Phantom “mad.”  And while his observation is true, it has the unfortunate (perhaps unintended) effect of making Raoul look unsympathetic—especially as the filmmakers have pulled strings to make the Phantom a more pitiable character than in the stage show.

*In the stage show, one of the managers said, “The man is mad!” in “Notes”, but this line was also cut from the film.

Raoul’s part of “Wandering Child” is missing as well: his lines in which he wonders who on earth this person is, and concludes, based on what he’s seeing, that the man is a seducer.  Also gone are his desperate appeals to the Phantom and Christine—his attempt to call her back to reality and to inform the Phantom that Christine’s love should be earned, not forced.  Instead, Movie-Raoul dashes up and says, almost in a throwaway manner, “Christine, whatever you may believe, this man, this thing is not your father.”

Finally, a key line was removed from the moments before Don Juan: “Shoot—only if you have to—but shoot to kill.”  In the stage show, this showed  that Raoul was prepared to use drastic measures, but would try to capture the Phantom first.  The film removes this line, thus drastically changing aspects of both justice and restraint from Raoul’s character.

On the flip side, that graveyard swordfight pushes his character in the opposite direction–because he’s clearly willing to go after the Phantom himself on limited information about how dangerous the man was.  Long story short, many lines and scenes that reveal the layers of Raoul’s character were cut, making him a less complex and motivated protagonist.

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A second problem with his character is that he performs some actions that make no sense.  In “Think of Me,” after calling “Bravo!” to Christine, he abruptly leaves his box and apparently the Opera, trotting down the staircase and through the grand hall while he sings his part of the song.  He turns up backstage later without being missed and without having purchased flowers or champagne or anything like that for Christine.  Maybe he was making a dinner reservation?  His reason for leaving is never explained.

Then at the Masquerade when the Phantom crashes the party, Raoul runs off without explanation–bad–and dashes back with his sword.  While he didn’t do this until the Phantom drew his own sword and demanded the production of Don Juan, the film’s Raoul either connects all the dots instantly (voice in the dressing room = guy Christine was scared of = this guy), or decides to cross swords without fully understanding how dangerous the man was.  Remember, the chandelier hasn’t fallen yet in this version.

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The problem gets worse when Raoul confronts the Phantom in the graveyard.  (Yeah, I’m really picking on that scene.)  On the one hand, this is the shortest distance between two points.  On the other, the chandelier still hasn’t fallen, and Madame Giry’s tale wasn’t really about the Phantom’s abilities and mystery, but about his tragic experience as a child.  While Film-Raoul is clearly concerned for Christine’s safety, his current knowledge doesn’t allow for anything more drastic than reporting the threats to the police and sticking around to protect Christine.  Granted, the Phantom threatened her and carted her off in the wee dawn hours, but trying to kill that guy is an over-the-top choice—one that clashes with Wilson’s understated performance.

Raoul makes a second senseless choice in this graveyard fight scene—after all that ruckus, he spares the Phantom’s life when Christine cries, “No, Raoul!  Not like this.”  While, on the one hand, it shows his devotion to his fiancée, on the other, it was stupid given that he thought the man dangerous enough to be killed.  And it begs the question of just exactly how film-Christine would prefer the Phantom to be disposed of…but that’s another topic for a different post.

And then, while I have not watched the film’s version of “Point of No Return,” I have read that Raoul, though he figures out that Don Juan is the Phantom, does nothing about the situation.  Maybe he thought Christine was too close to the guy for him to interfere?  But Movie-Raoul sits in Box 5 during the performance—so where, exactly, did he expect the Phantom to show up?

Really, Raoul’s character was shortchanged in this film.  If those problems weren’t enough, other cards are stacked against him from square one.

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For starters, there’s that hair.  I personally don’t mind it; I’m a sucker for shoulder-length hair on guys provided they keep it out of their faces, but long blond locks just look stupid compared to the Phantom’s thick dark hair.  I wondered if Raoul’s haircut started the “fop” accusation permeating the fandom, but apparently that was a myth before the film ever came out.  Go figure.

Additionally, many sung lines were changed to spoken dialogue.  All the characters get this downgrade, but Raoul’s scenes suffer the most, particularly in “Little Lotte.”  The song, originally a lingering and gentle melody, sounds stilted and heavy when changed to dialogue.

There is actually a rhythmic reason for the difference.  In “Little Lotte,” the stress, or beat, falls on the first syllable, denoted in italics: “Little Lotte, let her mind wander.”  The second syllables have no stress, or beat, meaning the rhythm ends on a softer tone than it began.  This combination of stress plus softer beat creates a “falling” rhythm.  And falling rhythm makes a song or piece of poetry feel quiet, ominous, or melancholy.  (Y’all still with me?)

However, the melody of “Little Lotte” bends these rules.  The music extends the second syllables for a note or two, which softens the falling rhythm and keeps the song from sounding melancholy.  Thus, “Little Lotte” is a rhythmic but lingering melody, not heavy, but not upbeat either.  In fact, it’s just the right mix of fun and wistful.

But changing the lyrics to dialogue ruins this effect.  The second syllables of each word fall with no music to extend them, and so the rhythms feel heavy and stilted.  Recite the song for yourself: sing the first line of “Little Lotte” and then speak it.  You should be able to hear the difference in tone.  Thus, to make Raoul’s lines sound like normal conversation, Wilson had to deliver them in almost an offhand manner.  And, of course, this is the song where Raoul renews his friendship with Christine, which makes his attempt look pitiful compared to the Phantom’s entrance.

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Quite frankly, it’s a feat that Patrick Wilson portrayed Raoul as sweet and earnest as he did.  It’s an understated portrayal, but not an emotionless one.  Years before I saw the movie, I devoured the soundtrack; and the impression I got from Wilson’s voice alone was that of an earnest young man, a bit rash, but who tried to do the right thing and was willing to sacrifice himself for his sweetheart.  (From Gerard Butler’s voice, I got the impression of a character whose hard life had created some major anger-management issues; and Emmy Rossum’s voice inspired no character impression whatsoever.)

And then if you watch Raoul carefully, you’ll see some depth and layers and quirks you might have missed the first time.  For instance, when Raoul greets Carlotta, he has this hilarious gag-inwardly-smile-outwardly expression:

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And Wilson does sound bored in these first scenes as being introduced as patron of the opera–but how many of us have been bored at some necessary social duty or function?  I wonder if he played it that way deliberately, with the subtext of Raoul needing someone to need him, needing some purpose in his life beyond the pleasures of a French aristocrat.

And then (stilted dialogue aside), he’s so adorably earnest in “Little Lotte”:

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(Yes, I edited Christine’s neckline and sleeves because, good grief, could her costumes get any lower?!?!)

Confused at the goings-on:

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Fierce Raoul is fierce.

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And sweet Raoul is sweet.

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He has anguish in his face and voice as he calls, “Christine, forgive me.  Please, forgive me!”

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And then a little moment I love: when going down the stairs to the Phantom’s lair, he pauses, glances down the path ahead—and looks afraid.

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Then he raises his hand and continues forward.

Also, Wilson really needs credit for the water trap scene.  If you thought acting was hard, imagine acting underwater: hitting marks and moving and conveying emotion in a totally different element—all while you can’t breathe.

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To be fair to the filmmakers, Raoul’s character is not the only weak point of the film.  Christine’s character could have been a lot stronger; and in trying to make the Phantom more sympathetic, the filmmakers created a number of plot holes (if he lived under the Opera House since age 12, how did he learn how to sculpt, sword-fight, and such?)  But the character flaws in Movie-Raoul stand out more, probably because this character is not generally liked and because the filmmakers didn’t seem to do him justice.  Ultimately, though, Raoul did the right thing at the end of the day—in fact, on my second viewing of the movie alone, I thought that Raoul was an earnest, sometimes reckless young man who wanted to do the right thing, but didn’t know how.  Film-Raoul was shortchanged–terribly–but Patrick Wilson’s portrayal has more nuance than people give it credit for.

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