When I was 10 or 11, and we were living in Taiwan, we saw a film version of Les Miserables. My dad and I think it was probably this one, a French film dubbed into English with Chinese subtitles. I remember being particularly fascinated by the character of Javert, so lost when Valjean showed him mercy that he couldn’t reconcile himself to life.
When the musical debuted, I bought the Broadway LPs and dubbed them onto cassettes. I listened and listened and listened. In 1989, I went on a school field trip to see the musical (and bought the over-sized Cosette T-Shirt. I loved that shirt. I wore it out). I still loved that story. Now I was caught up in all of it, and especially in the Bishop’s mercy and grace. When I moved on to CDs, I bought the complete symphonic recording and the original French concept album. When we married, Computerguy had the original London cast recording CDs. My mom and I saw the production on Broadway during our big East Coast trip in the late 90s and Computerguy and I saw it when we had season tickets to the Pantages (LA) our first year together. I also saw a strange French film adaptation in 1995 and the 1998 Liam Neeson version.
The older I got the more it was the character of Eponine who broke my heart: the girl who loves the boy who loves the other girl.
The only thing I haven’t done is read the book, though I did try my senior year in high school when a friend gave me a copy after the field trip. Some day.
All this to say, in spite of the lack of book reading, Les Miserables is one of the great literary loves of my life. Since I was 11, I have thought about this story of the fugitive who finds grace and mercy, yet does it outside the law, and the law man who can’t let him be outside the law. I was seriously looking forward to the film, and I was not disappointed.
(Note: I’ve written some of this as a comment on April’s Blog.)
It is a rich film. I especially liked the way they used the Bishop’s candlesticks as a motif of grace throughout the film. Everywhere Valjean went, he took those candlesticks with him and set them out as a reminder of grace. Lovely. And Hugh Jackman did okay for himself.
I loved Marius. He was perfectly cast, I thought. The freckle-faced youth who doesn’t fully understand what he is a part of, at least at first. He is partly rebelling against his family and partly excited by people caring about something, and partly believing in the cause. It was moving to watch his evolution as he becomes all-in and then realizes the devastation that has been done, the lives lost, while his own was saved.
I liked Russell Crowe’s Javert through most of the film, but I was not convinced by his suicide. The older I get, the less I am convinced that a character has no choice but to die, and I didn’t get there with Crowe’s Javert. That very first Les Miserables I saw when I was 11 totally convinced me that suicide was Javert’s only choice. I usually buy it in the stage play. This time, I was left a little cold. But that’s just me.
Computerguy, who knows all the songs but listens to music for the music not the lyrics (I don’t understand this concept, but he assures me it is true), and who had seen the play once before me and once with me, said that this was the first time he had really followed the story. He was moved by the “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” scene and by this line: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Yes, please.
I’m sure there’s more to say. The music has stayed in my head and I’ve had a few conversations about it this week. Valjean and Javert, Law and Grace. Right there. And the law can’t withstand grace. And add to that Eponine and Marius and Cossette and Gavroche and all the others. So good. So good. And I’ll still go see the play any time I can, but this film was okay. It was gritty and it was real–almost too much so; I found myself floundering a little at the very beginning when Valjean and Javert began their first conversation singing to one another in the midst of the realism of the chain gang, but I got there. It’ll do. Yes. It’ll do.