The Paris Opera House, also known as the Palais Garnier, was designed by Charles Garnier and built from 1861-1875 (Haining). The Paris Opera House was one of the most impressive Opera Houses of its era, and soon influenced the design of opera houses around the world (Hall). The grand architecture of the Opera House was influential in the mise-en-scene in the 2004 film The Phantom of the Opera. One element of the Paris Opera house that directly relates to the portrayal of the opera house in the film is the underground lake (Hall).
In the film, the dungeon where the Phantom lives is surrounded by water, which separates into canals and secret passageways, an element of the Gothic genre. The dim lighting and green water, incorporated with the low ceilings of the underground lair, have an eerie effect on the viewer. The secret passageways of the Opera house are utilized by the Phantom in numerous scenes of distress but also are used for the subterraneous pursuit of the Phantom at the end of the film. Staircases are another element of the Gothic present in the film. During the masquerade the Phantom interrupts the festivities when he appears at the very top of the grand staircase. This is the first time the other characters in the film see the Phantom, which is why it is important that he appear at one of the highest points in the room to establish himself as a figure of authority. This coincides with Hucvale’s discussion of staircases as “psychological symbols of authority and power,” (13; Huckvale). Another scene in which staircases are emphasized is when Raoul pursues the Phantom to find Christine. The film cuts to an angled shot of the spiraling staircase to emphasize its daunting nature. The gothic element in this particular scene is the focus on the staircase as a place of encounter (26; Huckvale). Raoul plans to confront the Phantom and save Christine, and the long descent down the dark staircase serves to assist him in this encounter. However, during his descent, a trap door plunges him into the underground waterways, escalating the suspense and tension of the scene. In one of the final scenes, in which Raoul is tied to the grate and Christine must choose between him and the Phantom, emotions run especially high. Tensions escalate because of the claustrophobic nature of the underground labyrinth. The tight confinement of the space with the low ceilings of the labyrinth is characteristic of the Gothic. Cavallaro describes claustrophobic environments as creating a sense of “lack of control over one’s space,” (86) which is especially true for Christine since she has no control over the situation at hand and sees no escape for her or Raoul (Cavallaro). When looking at the opera house in the film, it is interesting to analyze how it can be deceiving to both the characters and the audience. On the surface it portrays beauty, elegance, and class through the lavish decorations, tall ceilings, and grand stage. Yet, when this is juxtaposed to the mysterious, creepy environment below the opera house, the Phantom’s dwelling, the opera house becomes horrific. The dual nature of the opera house establishes it as a place of uncertainty, suspense, and terror.
Cavallaro, Dani. The Gothic Vision: Three Centuries of Horror, Terror and Fear. London: Continuum, 2002. Print.
Hall, Ann C. Phantom Variations: The Adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, 1925 to the Present. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2009. Print.
Haining, Peter. Foreword. The Phantom of the Opera. By Gaston Leroux. New York: Dorset, 1985. 7-24. Print.
Hogle, Jerrold E. The Undergrounds of the Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux’s Novel and Its Progeny. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2002. Print.
Huckvale, David. Touchstones of Gothic Horror: A Film Genealogy of Eleven Motifs and Images. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2010. Print.