Les Misérables

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“Do you hear the people sing?”

“There lived a man whose name was Jean Valjean. He stole some bread to save his sister’s son. For nineteen winters served his time; in sweat he washed away his crime…” The year is 1815 and, after nineteen tedious years in prison, bitter Valjean is finally released. After he is put on parole by the legalistic policeman Javert, Valjean is driven by despair and hatred. Through a kind bishop’s act of grace and forgiveness, Valjean becomes a changed and redeemed man, but the world is still hard and cruel. Is there hope and love to be found in such miserableness?

The Good

Les Misérables is a story of redemption and of God’s grace. Man is fallen and depraved and goodness comes from God alone. In a world of darkness, hope in Christ is a singular ray of light.

Love is an overarching theme in this story. There is some romantic love, but the majority of the film focuses on a true form of sacrificial love. A mother sacrifices everything for her daughter’s well-being, a man puts everything at stake to clear another man’s name, a girl stops at nothing to protect the man she loves, and a father’s love for his daughter causes him to do what would protect her and make her happy, even though it causes him immense sorrow. This is true love. The kind of love displayed by constantly giving of yourself for another without getting anything out of it in return.

Valjean is a character that exemplifies mercy whereas Inspector Javert is driven by justice. Both men believe to be following God. Valjean declares, “I gave my life to God, I know. I made that bargain long ago.” However, Javert also says, “Mine is the way of the Lord, and those who follow the path of the righteous shall have their reward.” Is Valjean a “fugitive running” who is “fallen from grace” and “fallen from God” as Javert believes him to be? Or is Javert so focused on justice and duty that he completely misses the Gospel message of forgiveness? This film gives the correct answer as both men live out their faith and follow Christ as they believe they should. Ultimately, the right way prevails and the contrast is shown.

The Bad

The MPAA rated this film PG-13 for “suggestive and sexual material, violence, and thematic elements.”

Redemption is only as powerful as what a person is redeemed from and, in Les Misérables, the fallen and sinful state of mankind is shown for what it is; vile, dirty, and loathsome.

During one powerful scene, a woman’s decent into despair is shown after she loses her job. This woman, Fantine, sells her necklace, then her hair, next her teeth, and finally, she sells her body into prostitution. The desperation she is driven to is horrifying. During this scene, it is obvious that she is in the company of prostitutes and crude language is amply present in the lyrics that are sung and the women are immodestly dressed and act in suggestive and inappropriate ways. The camera stays with Fantine, even while she reluctantly sells herself. No nudity is shown, but the actions that are implied are enough to make viewers very uncomfortable.

I have heard many concerns regarding this scene and I cannot begin to tell a person whether or not seeing it would be all right for them. It comes down to individual convictions. Personally, I can say, though, that I’ve seen the play on stage many times. In the stage production, during this scene and the song that the prostitutes sing, everyone in the theater erupts in laughter. In the play, it’s comical. In this film, however, none of it was shown as “okay” or “funny”. It is presented as horrible and ugly and not a single viewer in the room laughed. People cried and that was the correct response.

Another musical number that is concerning would be the song of a perverse innkeeper and his wife. To say that this pair is unscrupulous in conducting their business would be an immense understatement. They are the lowest of the low and conduct themselves accordingly. This involves thieving, prostitution, cheating, corruption, fornication, and squalor. This amount of sin is discomforting to watch.

Violence is another aspect to be wary of when deciding whether or not to see this film. There are a few instances where women slap men. Men fight with fists, swords, cannons and guns and there is a battle between revolutionary students and the soldiers as the soldiers strive to annihilate the rebels as they defend their barricade. Blood is visible and people die; including women and children. There is a suicide where a man falls into a river, and the impact of his fall is shown.

There is some smoking and there is also some profanity. Since almost the entirety of the dialogue of the film is sung, language is minimal. However, there are a few instances of the Lord’s name being taken in vain. The s— word is used along with a– and d—. Alcohol is also consumed in several instances throughout the movie.

The Art

As a life-long fan of the musical, I’d like to comment on how it stays true to the original play and also how it has been altered. First of all, several songs are noticeably absent from the film such as ‘Dog Eats Dog’ and other songs such as ‘Turning’ are severely abridged. Much of the transitional dialogue has either been cut out or changed and I was disappointed that a few of my favorite parts were missing from the film. Songs such as ‘Stars’, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, and ‘On My Own’ were moved, but the change was beneficial and aided in the cohesiveness of the story and helped it to flow more smoothly.

The cinematography style was very raw and different, but the creative approach suited Les Misérables well.

In my opinion, the film is a completely different presentation than the musical. The stage production offers more powerful singing whereas the film focuses less on the quality of the actors’ voices on more on the emotion on their faces. When tears are streaming down Hugh Jackman’s or Eddie Redmayne’s faces while they sing, one hardly notices that their voices are cracking because the emotion is so raw and so real. There is no lip-synching and the actors are singing in real-time. Anne Hathaway’s broken and beautiful rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was the best I have ever heard, but Russell Crowe’s performance left a lot to be desired. Even though his voice was adequate, his portrayal of Javert was emotionally lacking when compared to the actors I have seen on stage. Bringing Colm Wilkinson (the original Valjean) to play the Bishop was a wonderful addition and served to bring the legacy of Les Misérables to a complete circle.

Naturally, there are some differences from the musical, but the style stayed true to the original feeling and I was excited by some changes that represented Victor Hugo’s novel better, especially regarding Valjean’s love for Cosette, Marius’s and his grandfather’s relationship, the account of the barricade, and Grantaire’s devotion to Enjolras.

In Conclusion

Maybe it is because I grew up with the story. Maybe it is because I have been listening to the musical since I was six years old. Maybe it is because the book is my absolute favorite. All I can say is that there were some things that were different from what I had expected, but, in my humble and personal opinion, it was perfect. The story of Les Misérables is one that I am deeply connected with and, as a result, it was hard for me to take a step back and look at the film objectively. However, I did my best to represent both the favorable and the questionable content in an accurate way.

Regarding the risque content, I had expected to need to avert my eyes, but, although the content was enough to make me uncomfortable, it never “crossed the line” the way I had expected it to. From my personal experience though, I will add that my sixteen-year-old brother did close his eyes due to the immodest dress of the women in the two scenes that I discussed previously in my review and that was it. According to him, the rest of the film was worth it.

I cannot tell anyone whether or not they should see Les Misérables, because it depends heavily on the individual, but I can say with confidence that I would not take children to see this film. It deals with mature issues and only those with a solid worldview and discretion should expose themselves to that content. If you are a fan of the musical, then I would say that it’s worth seeing, otherwise, I would recommend some serious consideration before heading to the theater.

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  1. Thank you so much for writing this! It makes me even more eager to see this film.

      • Cassandra Rhoden
      • December 31st, 2012

      You’re very welcome, Abigail, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film after you see it. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much! This was a great review. You hit the nail on the head!

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