Thoughts on “Les Misérables” (movie)

MV5BMTQ4NDI3NDg4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjY5OTI1OA@@._V1._SY317_Les Misérables was wonderful. I had goosebumps from the first moment of glimpsing the grand French ship getting hauled into dry dock and they never seemed to go away for most of the movie, climaxing with the final scene of all the dead revolutionaries singing their rousing chant above a gigantic barricade. While I’m not naturally drawn to musicals and had never seen a production of this one before, it was still a deeply satisfying film, despite the tragic story.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about afterwards, though, was that this movie isn’t just a movie. It’s not only a nice, sad tearjerker of a story that I can wallow in for a few days before returning to my regular life; Les Misérables is reality in so many ways. There are many connections to the present day, lessons to be taken away and learned from. There are people suffering just as much as those young French men all around the world today, fighting for their own revolutions, for freedom, for the ability to feed their families. It’s easy to forget that in the West, because we fought our own bloody revolutions centuries earlier; yet, it’s happening now in the Middle East and North Africa and parts of Asia.

I was struck, too, by the love and forgiveness shown by the Catholic priest when Jean Valjean is caught stealing his silver. Rather than vindicating himself, which most people would feel like doing if someone they’d helped tried to rob them, he offered him the silver candlesticks. It was a stark lesson in forgiveness. It took only that one extra step of generosity and sincere belief in the potential goodness of Jean Valjean’s soul to turn his life around, and consequently that of so many others — Fantine, Cosette, and Marius, in particular. It was a beautiful ode to the principles of Catholicism at a time when so many of us doubt its integrity. I saw that scene shortly after reading an article on the L.A. church being forced by the Supreme Court to release the names of priests guilty of sexual abuse, after years of evading and protecting those men. The priest in Les Misérables, it seemed, was of a different calibre — one that would honour transparency at all costs.

Finally, the one-track attitude that inspector Javert has toward Jean Valjean is eerily similar to that of Canada’s current Conservative government and their rigid “tough on crime” laws: “Once a criminal, always a criminal,” with minimal consideration given to rehabilitation, restorative justice, and mental health support. Javert is inflexible, viewing people as black and white, followers of the law or breakers of the law, regardless of circumstances. As the film progresses, it quickly becomes obvious that his insistence on such a dichotomy is utterly ridiculous as we see what an honourable man Jean Valjean is.

Surprisingly, I didn’t weep my way through the movie, but rather finished it with an unsettled sensation in my gut. That’s a good thing. I’ll be adding Victor Hugo to my 2013 reading list.


9 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Les Misérables” (movie)

  1. Amazing movie of an amazing book-definitely worth putting near the top of your 2013 reading list. So many important messages to be learned from it. My kids listened very intently as I retold the scene with the priest, Valijean, and candelabras!

  2. Well, I think we are going to have to agree to disagree with this one. Emma and I both thought that we would have loved it without the music. Honestly, I can’t remember ever hearing a more banal and boring score to anything, ever. When the music in a musical bores you stupid, well, I don’t really know what to say. Anne Hathaway (an actress I usually quite like) as Best Supporting Actress is a joke. I agree with Anthony Lane in the New Yorker who in his review of the film said “I Screamed a Scream”. Yup. I do however, agree with your point about the priest, although I think it’s a bit of fantasy to imagine that’s really possible.

    1. I guess I didn’t consider it as being separate from the music. To be honest, yes, I much prefer movies with dialogue over singing, and I blame the singing for why I didn’t cry as much as I’d expected. I just couldn’t take it that seriously. But considering that I’ve never seen any production of Les Mis, it was still a lovely escape from the world for a few hours!

  3. Nice review. Without a doubt the best screen adaptation of the best musical in history. With a flat out flawless cast wonderful direction and cinematography. Tom Hooper strikes gold once again. Three hours of near-perfection.

  4. I really loved how the candlesticks kept reappearing through the movie, bringing home the message again of forgiveness and seeing the best in people even when they are at their worst.
    And I cried. I was surprised at that. I really enjoyed it and would love to see it again.

  5. Hi.
    I wanted to say Hi, from your newest follower. Two of my friends/co-workers wondered if I was following your blog yet, and that there were glimpses of similarities in our likes.

    I chose this post to comment on because this movie version was my dream come true. And I also blogged about my love affair with Les Mis a couple of months ago.

    Please stay tuned for more comment love from me.

    (I may have attempted to post this a few times last night, but to no avail. Please delete if there are 5 duplicates awaiting moderation.)

    1. Hi Funky Lindsay! Thanks for your lovely, enthusiastic comments on my blog. It’s always so great to hear from people with similar interests who like what they’re reading! Your blog looks really cool and I look forward to checking out some of your posts.

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