The following is contributed by guest writer, Vicki Turpen, regarding a recent movie that’s all about forgiveness.
Don’t Miss Les Mis!
An acquaintance of mine told me she would not go to see the movie Les Miserables because, although the music was beautiful, she had never understood the story. I can sympathize with her, having attended two live professional productions and one amateur. Although I love live theater, I must admit, they were all less than perfect viewings because of sound problems and various visual limitations.
But this recent movie rendition starring Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway and scores of other top actors is different. The story line is always in your face. There is no mistaking the theme, revelations in character, or direction of the plot. It is a profound tale of forgiveness and retribution. A French convict Jean Valjean is released after serving his sentence and then forgiven for stealing from a loving priest. He spends the rest of his life ‘paying it forward’, all the time threatened by Javert a policeman who cannot ever seem to see Valjean as good or worthy of forgiveness.
Valjean saves a man from being crushed by a wagon, promises a woman (inadvertently wronged by his actions) that he will care for her daughter, and he refuses to allow another man to be incarcerated in his stead. In the song ‘Who Am I’ he fully realizes his identity is wrapped up in his actions toward other human beings. He can never be truly blessed or pardoned by a lie. Toward the end Jean Valjean goes out of his way to save Javert’s life. The latter realizes that whereas he had most deliberately worked to keep God and the law on his side, his actions ironically were all wrong. The vital piece that had always been missing for him was mercy and forgiveness.
Portrait of “Cosette” by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)
There is a strong thread throughout the story of familial love. Valjean saves the life of a young revolutionist his adopted daughter has recently fallen in love with. And in the song ‘Bring Him Home’, he realizes he has a profound sense of love for the young man, and even considers him to be the equivalent of the son he will never, but would like to have had.
Underlying the story and for those out there who love action, there is the build up of the French Revolution. The youths desire to overcome tyranny and inequality. This is beautifully in keeping with so many countries today where young idealists are willing and actively fighting for freedom from oppression.
The ultimate task, of course, is for Jean Valjean to finally and fully forgive himself. There is a realization that his human actions were simply an outpouring of his love for God and his fellow man. Les Mis is inspired and inspiring. One of the last lines captures the essence of the story’s theme when the viewer hears ‘to love another is to see the face of God’. The close ups and technique of filming make Victor Hugo’s story more dramatic, realistic, and understandable. Whether you see it in a theatre or wait for the DVD, don’t miss Les Mis.