Over the years there have been many adaptations of the monumental work of Victor Hugo‘s Les Miserables. These include a musical adaptation originally presented in 1980 in France, which later was translated into several languages.
The major motion picture we are discussing, directed by Tom Hooper and starring renowned actors like Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, among many others, is an English version of the musical brought to the big screen. For those familiar with the musical,
Les Miserables offers a unique opportunity to visualize what the lyrics and music have already achieved with an unusual of force transmission.
It is a bit difficult to summarize or highlight the most important or interesting aspects of the movie. It shows the best and worst of humanity, with many of its complexities, hopes, joys, failures and pains. The luxurious is interconnected with nonsense, love goes hand in hand with pain, happiness with detachment, and the road that separates happiness from bitterness and despair is sometimes a fine line where intentions and the correct or incorrect use of freedom decides battles of unsuspected importance.
Right from the start, when we hear the first notes, it reminds us of the miserable condition of the prisoners. We recognize and understand much about the pain and injustice that exists in this world. Convicted for stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean will face long years in prison and is hardened and angered by a life that never seemed to offer security or love. Moving along, from the very beginning of the first scene, we see him carrying a huge wooden bulk under the harsh gaze of his pursuer, Javert. From that point, we conclude already that he will face constant crosses and hardships throughout his life.
The love and mercy, however, triumph over both judgment and the human soul. The Bishop’s unexpected act of charity penetrates the hardness of Valjean’s heart and successfully introduces him to a completely new vision of himself. Mercy, however is not blindness. God, like a saint once said, promises us forgiveness but does not promise us a tomorrow. This is what the bishop reminds Valijean: “But remember this, my brother. See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver. To become an honest man (…)God has raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God!”
This turning point marks a new path for Valjean, and the start of a different life under a new name. The mayor will be a generous, always correct, and faithful steward. However, we perceive that this is not enough. Here is one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Valjean’s life changed once again, it may not be obvious, but it is definitely seen when he cares for Cosette, a young orphan, who is simply ignored. By caring for her he helps her live a life more full of love. The testimony of charity implanted in him by the Bishop along with his paternity for little Cosette, which will eventually include detachment, will increasingly reflect a love of God’s love for his children.
In the shadow of Valjean’s path, Javert always appears strict and scrupulously bound to his duty. He is not a bad person, but his understanding of justice escapes any possibility of change in the human heart. There is no place for mercy, not even for him, nor is there the ability to go beyond the safety of what is so-called “normal”. At the end of his life, Valjean tells him, “you’ve done your duty, nothing more.” How far from the genuine love that accompanies the extra mile, delivers the robe, loves the enemy! The same melody that accompanies the crisis of Valjean and his conversion also accompanies Javert’s crisis, which, however, leads to a tragic ending. Grace calls for inner transformation, but God kneels before the freedom of man.
Many other characters in the film offer interesting aspects. Among them we can not forget Fantine, full of dreams and desire of a pure love, whose life was being introduced in the most intimate times of a dramatic road of human existence. The love for her daughter shines among the disinherited of this land, giving a superior sense to his tragic life. In similarly, Eponine is suffering and willing to die for the one she loves, -Marius-, sacrificing even for him whom will never love her, so that he may meet with the one he does in fact love.
It is worth mentioning the young men from café ABC. In them we recognize the great values of the youth, the desire for change, the heroism, the ability to offer one’s life in service of an ideal; but this ideal may be questionable and somewhat horizontal. Also, on the other hand, immaturity, lack of experience, tenacity and stubbornness tends to lead to tragedy.
It should be mentioned as well that the Thénardier, whose comical role disguises their beauty and degredation in which they are portrayed in the novel. Men are also capable of acts opposed to our dignity and the dignity of those around us, and we can immerse ourselves in severe selfishness, to become almost unable to glimpse humanity itself.
The final scene of Les Miserables really shows the Christian message contained throughout the movie. The ghosts of his past are gone, and the lengthy journey towards accepting his greatness and misery, towards the recognition of his identity and experience of freedom -not the one whom makes the law, but shows love- has reached its fulfillment. On his deathbed he sings: “Remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.” He is lead by Fantine to eternity, and awaits the Bishop, who embraces him in the doorway of the church, not on earth, but in heaven, where you enter into full communion with God.
We hear the choir that sounds loud and lively, and find old characters who died during the film. They are the forgotten of land, lost in the “valley of the night”, reminding us that there is an existing flame that never goes out, and that even the darkest night is eventually illuminated with sunlight. Then “they will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord (…) the chain will break, and all men will have their reward.” There is a better tomorrow in Les Miserables, which does not invite us to be blind nor to ignore earthly realities, but to enlighten them with the final destiny of man which is eternal life- and the truths that flow from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.
The Christian perspective through the entire film is unusually clear for a production of this type, and is perhaps even more striking that it is in Victor Hugo’s work. Crosses and crucifixes are presented multiple times, not only as decoration, but as a key reading of a film that seems to have borrowed the script from the Beatitudes of the Gospel. The cross, then, does not appear as a masochistic and oppressive aspect of Christianity that Hollywood seems to love to portray, but as an ultimate way of freedom and redemption, a necessary step for the encounter with God’s love and light that allows a deeper understanding of our daily lives.
Kenneth Pierce (Translation by Y. Artieda)