Like most theater lovers, I am a total Renthead. I have seen the Rent movie more times than I can count. Still, I can’t help but notice the parts of the musical that are a little…odd. Like the fact that Angel kills a dog for money. I know the dog belonged to Ben, but it’s not the dog’s fault that her owner is a greedy, selfish, and horrible human being. “Today 4 U” is a deceptively cheerful song paired with an innocent, joyful Santa costume. Angel did a horrible thing! A dog being killed is not funny at all. I’m glad our beloved characters had money to eat, but this particular means of getting it is terrible.
To be honest, Angel killing a dog, even if it did belong to a bad person, seems so out of character for her. She’s so sweet and loving, after all. It got me thinking that part of what makes Rent so relatable is the fact that its characters are not perfect. They all have flaws. Like I’ve been saying, Angel killed a dog. But let’s examine the other characters.
There’s Maureen, who flirts with other people, even when she’s taken, and is often unfaithful in her relationships. Mimi works at a strip club (granted, this doesn’t have to be seen as a flaw. Her job is her job, it’s just not typically the most respected profession. But like she says. “It’s a living”). Mark gets dumped by his girlfriend and struggles to create a film he can be proud of. Roger used to be a heroin addict. Joanna is a bit of a control freak. As for Collins…well, to be honest, I can’t think of any flaws for him. He’s an overall nice guy.
Not only do most of these characters have flaws, but most of them also struggle to afford food and make ends meet. These characters struggle with addictions, AIDS, the constant threat of eviction, unemployment, and living in apartments without heat. A lot of sad things happen in their lives, and it’s difficult to watch their stories unfold without crying, or at the very least, feeling a lot of feels.
In spite of very sad, and very realistic struggles, Rent manages to leave its audience with the most inspiring messages of love, the importance of living in the moment, the value of friendship, and the value of not giving up on relationships, even when things get hard. We can relate to the musical for its brokenness, and we can aspire to live better through its messages, just as the characters try to do.
Rent does not, in any way, offer us perfect characters. What it does offer is real characters with real struggles, real hopes, real relationships, real fears, real flaws, and real lives (you know, aside from the fact that they randomly burst into song at any given moment). Perhaps these imperfections are the very thing that make Rent, and its characters, so perfect.