Here are a few thoughts on the film Les Misérables. We'll give some initial praise, some warnings, and then comment on several of the characters and their development in the storyline of the film. PROS:
- It is excellent to see characters in this film shown for what they are. The wicked people are portrayed as desperately evil and there is no confusion as to who they are. They are real despots and they are shown to be such in their dress, speech, manners, conduct, etc. Likewise, our protagonist and the fellow goodly people are portrayed as noble, courageous, kind, and compassionate. All such qualities and virtues as should be emulated by civil society.
- Jean Valjean is presented as an able and noble father to Cosette. His journey of repentance, and his taking responsibility for those he has wronged, are the main elements of the film which carry it to it’s conclusion. While he is concerned that at some point he will not be able to care for Cosette, he is relieved to find Marias a willing, able, and capable man to take on the responsibility of providing for her welfare as his wife.
- The cinematography is stunning. Not only visually appealing, but it also excellently conveys the passion and drama of the story. The musical scores are spectacular, and all of the vocals are well delivered by the brilliantly selected cast. The score and vocals do differ from the stage production with the unique aspect of being filmed live and being interpreted by the individual actors.
- Cosette's virtuous presentation as a young girl with the meekness and kindness is refreshing to see—we can do without the pomp and glamor associated to the hollywood idea of a flirt. Cosette is gracious, not snobbish. For the little bit of screen time that she has, her entire impression is one of amiable grace.
- There are many more favorable elements to the film, but these are what we will mention for now.
CONS: In the film there are four very disturbing elements of the film that we strongly caution against in your consideration to view it.
- First, in the scene with the prostitutes (which occurs after Fantine is cast out from the Mayor’s factory), women are shown lewdly dressed and make an exhibition of themselves throughout the entirety of the scene. Near the close of the scene, it is shown that Fantine and a man commit fornication. While there is no nudity shown, the scene clearly depicts what is occurring.
- Second, and possibly the most offensive, is the scene in the Thénardier’s Inn which should have been completely scrubbed from the movie. This scene is filled with inappropriate behavior crude and vulgar comments, and a disturbing amount of graphic and sensual behavior on the part of the guests at the inn—as well as the Thénardiers themselves.
- Third, of the main characters in the film, three of them are killed in a more graphic manner than others who are killed. At the battle of the barricades, the little boy is shot twice—the sequence occurs with him directly in front of the camera making it gruesome. He falls back with his eyes wide open, which is meant by the filmmakers to stir and emotionally enrage the audience. Eponine is also gunned down at point-blank range in a close-up camera shot. Javert pitches himself off of a bridge where he crashes loudly onto the stonework in the water before being swept away by the current.
- Fourth, throughout the film an unnecessary use of vulgar or crude language is use by the Thénardiers and a few others.
Below are highlights and commentary on two of the main characters in the film.
Jean Valjean is not the typical helpless, hapless, Hollywood father. He is in fact a man of noble bearing, amiable character, visionary ambition, dutiful purpose & great resolve. He refuses to shirk duties or responsibilities that are considered below his position, and he has compassion on all who he encounters; giving as he is able to the poor and destitute. He takes responsibility for his own actions, and forgives those who make trespasses against him.
Jean Valjean is unjustly imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Biblical law requires two fold restoration, not imprisonment as the restitution for theft.
Jean Valjean realizes that Fantine was a worker in his factory, and that her current situation as a prostitute is a result of his negligence in hearing the concerns of his workers. Because of this Jean Valjean assumes responsibility for Fantine’s care and takes her to a hospital. He also promises to care for Fantine’s daughter.
Jean Valjean is presented as an able and noble father to Cosette. His journey of repentance, and his taking responsibility for those he has wronged, are the main elements of the film which carry it to it’s conclusion. His concern that he will not always be there for Cosette, is relieved when he finds that Marias is willing, able, and capable to take on the responsibility of a husband to care for her as his wife.
Introduced in the opening scenes of the film as a merciless, heartless, and almost cruel prison guard, Javert, the antagonist of the movie, has zero tolerance to show mercy for even the slightest infraction of the law. Consistently throughout the film it is demonstrated that he is a man whose moral values are based in a duty to uphold justice (though his standard of justice is not defined until near the end of the film). He is not shown to have any religious affiliation in the film, though he does mention God in several of the lyrics.
Javert’s sense of duty to the law is based upon a flawed understanding of man’s depravity. He sees men who have transgressed the law as irredeemably evil. And this would be the case except that God has chosen to restrain man's wickedness and to bestow His general grace upon him. He has shown mercy and unmerited favor upon men so that every act of theirs is not as wicked as it could be. Javert believes that a man is born in sin—and rightly so— but also believes that man has the ability to choose his path to right or wrong—and if he ever chooses the path of sin he is incorrigible. What he fails to understand is that man is already on the path of sin before he is born—and by the grace of God can be regenerated.
He also sees those who have broken the law as having no rights to it’s protection any longer—whereas this is not the case in a proper and biblical understanding of justice. A man is innocent until proven guilty by the testimony of two or three witnesses. No man is removed from the protection of the law—even a criminal who has an offense committed against him is a victim and can call for restitution to be made.
Javert’s understanding of duty, justice, and mercy are brought to a head when Jean Valjean releases him from captivity and spares his life. Javert cannot cease to hunt Valjean because his sense of justice requires him to continue pursuit. Yet he cannot bring himself to condemn the man to whom his life is indebted. Faced with this paradoxical circumstance he chooses to escape the conflict he finds himself by removing himself from the equation. Thus he commits suicide by hurling himself from a bridge.