We saw Les Miserables last night. I didn’t know much about it. I did know it was a classic that had something to do with poverty, love, and the French Revolution. That’s it. Spurred on by the comments of Face Bookers who were deeply moved by watching it and a desire to learn the story and hear the music, I went.
Spoiler alert: If you plan on seeing Les Mis and are not familiar with the plot, you may want to stop reading.
I loved Hugh Jackman and Russell Crow in their roles. I knew Russell Crow was in the movie, but forgot who the other lead was. It took me two-thirds of the movie to figure out it was Hugh Jackman. As my wife said, Russell Crow (Javert) looked very dashing in his French military-like police inspector’s uniform and Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) is one heck of a singer and actor.
The musical is based upon Victor Hugo’s fifteen hundred page novel, so there is way too much plot for me to get into all of it. I found the social commentary and love story took a back seat to the spirituality and redemption story, which is a study in contrasts.
Javert’s fanatical ruthlessness in pursuing Jean Valjean is a result of despising his beginnings. He was born in prison to a convict father and a gypsy mother. He believed he was doing the will of God in administering justice.
Jean Valjean was imprisoned at a young age for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. His sentence was increased to nineteen years because of numerous escape attempts. He had unusual human strength and had turned into a very hardened man whose body bore the scars of the many beatings he had received
Upon his release to parole, no one would employ him or house him because of his background. Finally a village priest had mercy on him and took him in. He “rewarded” the priest’s kindness by stealing what he could from him. He was quickly caught by the authorities, but the priest forgave him, let him keep the valuables he had stolen, and saved him from returning to prison.
Deeply moved by the priest’s kindness, he decided he was new man, tore up his papers violating his parole, and assumed a new identity. He became wealthy inventor and businessman who was elected mayor of the city.
One of his employees (Fantine) was unjustly dismissed from her job. In order to rescue her daughter (Cosette) from the scoundrels who “cared” for her, she sold her hair, some of her teeth, and gave herself to life of prostitution.
In an encounter on the street Jean Valjean learned who she was and vowed to care for her and to rescue her daughter. Fantine soon died and Valjean pursed her daughter as promised, paid the ransom, and raised Cosette as his own.
Javert relentlessly pursued Jean Valjean and they had a few close encounters through the years. Jean Valjean changed his identity and moved from city to city as necessary, while keeping his past a secret from Cosette. Valjean also saved the life of Cosette’s future husband, a leader in the attempted French revolution.
In the last encounter between Valjean and Javert, the tables were turned, Valjean was to kill Javert, which would have solved his problems, but instead he let him escape.
Javert was confounded by Valjean’s heroic forgiveness and grace. He simply could not process it and committed suicide.
Jean Valjean left Cosette just before her marriage to protect her from the Javert who he believed would one day imprison him and put her in peril. He did not realize Javert was dead. Alone in a monastery, he simply wished to die for the sake of Cosette; and he did.
That’s when the theater was filled with sighs and sniffles. What a sad tale, but what deeply spiritual message.
If we don’t begin to grasp grace, we, like Javert, will be all about justice, hunting down the “bad guys,” like those who lifestyle and beliefs are different than ours. If carried to its logical conclusion, not understanding God’s grace will cause us to loathe ourselves as well, like Javert.
Like Jean Valjean we all have something in our past that we are not proud of. We may have developed a disregard and even hate of those who have hurt us or who disagree with us, but we are not defined by that. We are defined by our creator who has this crazy idea that we have worth that exceeds anything else in his creation.
Once we are redeemed, we become redeemers, just like Jean Valjean.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” – a line from the Les Miserables