Les Misérables

FIGHT. DREAM. HOPE. LOVE.

“…Les Misérables is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. … In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: ‘Open to me, I come for you.’ “
– Victor Hugo

First, I have to make a confession. I have never read this story or seen the play. Until the last couple of years, I have never really had an interest in stories like Les Misérables, simply because they didn’t have enough action.
Sad, but true.

But I’m beginning to appreciate more and more the importance of allegory, that appreciation was the catalyst for this blog. So, I’ll write this one up for audiences that may have, like me, never given this story a chance.

Even though I dislike musicals and find the performances distracting, I recommend Les Misérables theater-ticket-worthy.
Here’s why:

  • Les Misérables should be read by all, and seen by all
  • The story is true to life, and to the condition of man
  • The characters are engaging & the performances by the cast excellent
  • While hard to watch, this is a story of redemption and of love

Les Misérables has a surprisingly simple plot, that leaves lots of room for important character development.

I.M.D.B. gives the following synopsis:
“In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.”

What makes Les Misérables so captivating is Javert’s pursuit of Valjean (Jackman), a parallel of man’s pursuit of validation through the harshness of law.

Symbiotically, Valjean’s efforts to escape tyranny merely to survive leave him in an even more desperate state.
This makes the story resonate through Valjean, who believed he could do no better than to save  himself. Even more ironic is the fact that this belief is not unlike Javert’s.

Valjean’s salvation comes from the mercy of a priest who had been robbed by Valjean. Instead of sending him back to prison, the priest shocks Valjean with forgiveness and releases him. This one act of mercy changes everything for the destitute Valjean, and affords him the courage to live with greater purpose than mere survival.

The law’s objectivity provides Javert (Crowe) with a great deal of personal security. Javert’s manhunt is driven by his love for the law, which has elevated him to such precarious heights that to hold his high position he must shackle Valjean, who embodies the antithesis of Javert’s vision: redemption through forgiveness, life as a gift.

To Javert, mercy is poison. He claims to have come from the same “gutters” as Valjean, and may have, but his pleasure to “look down” on the guilt of others becomes a narrowing ledge and his convictions inevitably lead to his downfall. Salvation for Javert became impossible, and he finds a fitting end.

Valjean’s own choices lead him to discover love through his adopted daughter, Cosette (Seyfried), who becomes the centerpiece of tension between himself and Javert. Decades pass but do not relent Javert’s manhunt, and Cosette finds herself in a different kind of prison than her father’s. While he protects her from the knowledge of his past, Valjean knows that love will find Cosette and his courage to give her hand to the young man that loves her only cements his faith in love’s purpose that outshines even survival and self-love.

Valjean makes his greatest personal sacrifice when he willingly gives Cosette to Marius (Redmayne). This union is the ultimate triumph over fear and oppression.

Cosette’s own journey is salvaged from the most debased circumstances, being used by Madame Thenardier (Carter) and her husband (Cohen), both of them thieves and murderers who pray on their fellow oppressed man. They are a picture of the lowest form of life, even comically so.

The most fitting punishment for them is perhaps to remain together. It may be the same life Valjean would have made for himself, if he had gotten away with the stolen loot and never had the opportunity to experience forgiveness.

There is one last character that I feel compelled to mention, though there is plenty more to discuss about this story.

Éponine, adopted sister of Cosette, is a young lady in love with Marius, but considered by him only a friend, and whose pining goes unnoticed. She is in a unique position to end a potential relationship between Marius and Cosette.

But Éponine (Barks), while young and suffering poverty and the humiliation of being daughter to the Thenardiers, chooses to live selflessly.

Éponine‘s choice literally saves Marius, and is one of many sacrifices that make his reunion with Cosette possible.

The finale is the perfect climax to the story of  Les Misérables. The characters who had laid down their lives out of the understanding that “to love another is to see the face of God” are reunited in the victory of the afterlife.

“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.”

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