Illustration Credits: Ashima Kaura

I was six years old, clambering into my mother’s bed to spend an afternoon watching movies and escape from the sweltering heat of the summer. I didn’t know it then, and wouldn’t realize it until much later, just how impactful one movie can be on an impressionable mind.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004) has all the usual archetypes: a virginal main character, a handsome “Prince Charming” figure and a violent love triangle. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the musical, the story revolves around “the Phantom,” a musical genius with a congenital deformity that has driven him to a life in the sewers, and his obsession with the beautiful protégé Christine. When Raoul, Christine’s childhood friend and love interest, re-enters her life, the Phantom is driven into a mania. He murders, sabotages and blackmails with increasing ferocity.

People usually point to Disney-esque stereotypes when they criticize Hollywood love stories. It’s easy to see why. The mythos surrounding love at first sight and knights in shining armour fall to pieces in real life. But then again, the pendulum also swings the other way. From Lancelot and Guinevere to Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass, turbulent love triangles have always held the public’s fascination.

I was six years old, wide-eyed at the spectacle unfolding in feathers and diamonds before me, falling fast in love with love. Others were less impressed and rightly so. The film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera received a whopping 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Its main criticism: the romanticization of the eponymous Phantom. The original novel was written as a horror story.

I was 14 years old when, in the fall of my freshman year, I learned what the word “no” means. That is to say, to many people, it meant nothing at all.

The Phantom made his presence known in the Opera via threatening notes and a voice that seemed to appear from nowhere. My own quasi-stalker made his presence overbearing with poetry, candy and other miscellaneous presents over the course of three years. Prior to this, I thought that devotion bordering on obsession was just persistence. That possessiveness was indicative of passion. The sentiments that were romanticized in The Phantom of the Opera, I found, would bleed into every aspect of my life.

So, real life and love is never as clear cut as the movies say it is. Unfortunately, and all too often, it can be just as creepy.

Still, I’ve never been able to shake my attraction to fraught love affairs. It seems to me that whether it’s a symptom of a collective ennui or a troubled mind, the masses still crave the bittersweet dramas of love.

In theory, there is nothing more hopelessly sweet or romantic as being in the throes of heartbreak.

I am 18 years old now and on cold, wintry nights, my mind always takes me back to summer afternoons and the heat of la douleur exquise. A part of me will always want to recapture that childhood fascination. I want to be swept off my feet. And if I’m stuck in the middle between two people? Well, I’ve never objected to being fought over.

The Phantom of the Opera opened my eyes, to things both good and bad, but it wasn’t until I opened my legs, a full decade after that afternoon, to a world of other possibilities that I realized how fun love could be.

Sex changed the dynamics of my relationships with people. Like Christine descending into the Phantom’s lair, I was initiated into a world where slipping a sleeve off a shoulder was an invitation to nights spent outside of time and responsibility.

In a way, when sex stopped being such a big deal for me, so did romance. I realized a few things along the way. I learned intimacy without compromising individuality and vulnerability without compromising strength. I learned that you can fall in love for a night or for a year and it will still be wonderful. Love doesn’t have to hurt to be good.

To place responsibility for the beginning of my romantic awakening on a single film seems a bit much, but the dream world depicted in The Phantom of the Opera left an impression that I still can’t quite shake. Maybe it’s because this dream world is one wherein reality might be romanticized to opulent heights, but not forgotten.

Want your very own Phantom? The streets of Toronto are brimming with candidates.

It’s the jarring similarities between the themes romanticized in the film and the terrifying reality of living out those themes that keeps me up at night. The horror that the movie left out is one that women live through every day.

And yet, the intensity of the Phantom’s yearning is surely something that we all crave, once in a while—a break in the monotony of the everyday. Having had my own taste of the hunger that lives between sheets and in strangers' glances, I can’t say that I could ever go back.

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