The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Possibly the most soul-crippling narrative since the Little Mermaid, no one has found a way to find a completely happy ending to the story so that Quasimodo, the eponymous Hunchback of Notre Dame de Paris (oooh look at me, I know how to speak French!), gets the things he wants: acceptance into society and the love of Esmeralda. I mean, you know something’s horribly wrong when even Disney can’t pull it off. No, they had to be satisfied with just “acceptance into society”. How lame is that? And Esmeralda decides to just “be friends” with Quasimodo, the man who saved her life, while going away with Phoebus, the dashingly shallow Captain of the Guards? Esmeralda getting together with Phoebus at the end of Disney’s version is like Belle deciding to marry Gaston for no other reason than he’s a handsome douchebag!

Let me explain the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame in brief: Quasimodo is under the care of Frollo. Frollo likes Esmeralda the gypsy girl because she’s hot. Quasimodo also likes Esmeralda, but only because she was nice to him while the other gypsies were assholes and tied him up. Esmeralda likes Phoebus, the handsome Captain of the Guards, who is arrogant, superficial, morally questionable, and French. Actually, all of the characters are vaguely French in one way or another. I don’t know why I described Phoebus in particular as French. Hmmm… Anyway, Phoebus also likes Esmeralda, but only in a “she’s kinda into me, so I’ll just use her and bounce” sort of way. This is because he is betrothed to the beautiful Fleur-de-Lys, a noblewoman. So Frollo gets crazy jealous of Phoebus, stabs him while he is being intimate with Esmeralda (Frollo is a troubled, troubled soul), arrests Esmeralda and tortures her in attempt to win her love. That is his French way. This doesn’t work, but Quasimodo sorta rescues her and things get confusing here, with gypsies attacking the cathedral and whatever, but Esmeralda firmly believes that Phoebus will save her and decides to stay. But he doesn’t. He has come to the conclusion that this gypsy chick is too much trouble, and decides to let her die. So she dies. And Quasimodo kills Frollo in a rage and dies of starvation while embracing Esmeralda’s dead body. It’s amazing how Disney made this story even marginally happy.

People tend to think, “Oh, it’s like that Phantom of the Opera story, and the Phantom and Quasimodo are so similar in their tragically unrequited love nyeh nyeh nyeh”. I disagree. The Phantom of the Opera that most people know is the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, which although fantastic, is essentially a Disney-fied version of the original story. And besides, the only thing Quasimodo and the Phantom have in common are their unfortunate physical appearances and utter devotion for the female lead. In other aspects, the Phantom is more like Frollo in his psychotic obsession with…whatever her name was, and besides, Raoul is no Phoebus. Raoul is the quintessential Prince Charming. He’s young, rich, handsome, and utterly in love with…whatever her name is (I should really look this up) due to their fond childhood memories together. Christine. That was her name. Whatever. In comparison, Phoebus is a douchebag. He just shrugs off Esmeralda once he sees that getting into her gypsy pants implies some form of career-compromising commitment. Yup, he’s not going to do that. But still, Esmeralda seems to be head-over-heels for one-dimensional him rather than the sweet and devoted Quasimodo whom we’re all rooting for (if any of you who watched the Disney movie and were hoping for Esmeralda to get with Phoebus, you should be ashamed of your shallowness. Shame.), which many have considered a tragic commentary on the reality of how we as human beings tend to choose what seems superficially good to us rather than what is actually good for us because we’re essentially stupid. Something tells me that this story may have influenced the bleak “c’est la vie” direction that French art tends to take. Hmm…

Yes, Disney managed to transform the heart-breaking tale of the Little Mermaid into a feisty feature film starring crabs with Jamaican accents and flounders that weren’t really flounders, but I don’t think they could have ever possibly created a version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame that would provide a really happy ending while capturing the basic message of the story: substance versus superficiality. In fact, there is one telling scene in the original story that is actually the most soul-crushing scene I have heard of (even moreso than anything He’s Just Not That Into You could throw at me), where Quasimodo offers Esmeralda two vases with flowers, one which is made of crystal but broken and filled with wilted ugly flowers (representing the wasteland of humanity Phoebus) and one which is plain earthenware but filled with fresh beautiful flowers. Esmeralda takes the ugly wilted flowers and holds them tightly. She might as well have kicked Quasimodo in the heart. Poor thing.

Well, then again, in her defense, Esmeralda was only 16 during the events of the original story, but then again, 16 in 1482 is like 26 in 2009, so she should have known better. Unlike those idiot teenagers in Verona a century later. So anyway, if you want some heart-wrenching reading, check out chapter 46 of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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