Sympathy for the Devil

Phantom of the Opera is my favorite play. It’s also my favorite opera (because there’s not many options there.)

I don’t know why, but there’s something about the swelling music and the dark and light imagery…and I guess the psychopathic tendencies of the main character sort of make it interesting, too. (Spoiler alert: he’s a murderer in a mask and a cape. What’s not to like?)

And that’s totally weird, because at no point (except the point of no return, at the end) that we’re like, yes, let the heroine go with the kind, caring prince charming and sing a beautiful duet. No, we’d actually like the masked weirdo to win just. this. once. so that he can serenade her in the sewers or whatever he’s been planning to do for years.

Why? Because no villain thinks that he or she is a villain. And so we’re convinced that the villain, even for a moment, is right. We all have a little, or in many cases, a lot, of sympathy for the devil. Don’t believe me? Let’s review the exhibits.

Exhibit A: Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He was actually a Hobbit once, and loved and ate and slept and ate and played and ate as all hobbits do. And then, he murdered in the name of the one ring, and then he turned into a bad guy. But we still feel bad for that decrepit little creature with the huge eyes who lost his ability to speak in complete sentences but can riddle Bilbo Baggins until his face turns blue.

Exhibit B: He Who Must Not Be Named. Do you think that he wanted to be reborn with no nose and be beaten into submission by a baby? No! He wanted to be immortal (which he sort of is as a result of a highly popular children’s book.) And then, he wanted to be the best. And he was for a second, but then again, that baby who became a really angsty teenager with a grudge. (But really, no good can come to people who kill unicorns.)

Exhibit C: Well, that’s you. Because like it or not, sometimes you are the villain. And you don’t even realize it. To you, you’re just having a bad day. But to everyone else? You have a scepter and a poison apple in your bag. And you don’t even know it because it’s not like you mean to be evil. It’s just happening. And besides, you had a really bad day. Why can’t anyone see that? That’s just every villain’s thought process ever. (I mean, have we learned nothing from the drawn out monologues?) “I have to kill you because this, that, and the other thing.” “You were my friend until you betrayed me to blah blah blah, etc.”

So, congratulations. You’re the villain. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t feel any different than being the hero. It just doesn’t pay off.

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