Les mis

In recent years there have been a few overtly Christian movies made.  Specifically, I have in mind the trio of films produced by a Georgia church that have had some mainstream success (“Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and “Courageous”).  These films are evangelistic in nature and overt in Christian themes.  Sunday night, I went to see another Christian film.  This one, however, was not produced by a church, but by a major Hollywood studio and starred some of the biggest names in film.  Though the nature of the film is not quite as overt as the “Georgia Three” the message is no less Christian.  The movie I am referencing is the screen adaptation of the musical “Les Miserables.”  

Over the next few days, I plan to write a series of reflections on this story from a theological perspective.  As I do that, I want to make two things clear:

  1. As my friend Doug Serven said, “This is not a Disney musical.”  Thus I would not recommend this movie for small children.  It deals with intense and mature themes that would frighten (or bore) children.  The PG-13 rating is well earned (much like the book of Judges 🙂  ).
  2. This film is a wonderful work of art, and much could be said about the making of this movie and the power of the cinematography, performances, etc.  I will leave those conversations to others who are more qualified.  However, I will point you to this youtube video that speaks of the making of the film:

That said, here is my first installment of some thoughts about this movie.

“Les Miserables” is an intensely emotional movie.  I found myself either in tears or on the verge of tears for nearly the entire 2.5 hours.  Some could chalk this up to the emotional tenor of the music, but I think the real power is in the story.  The music merely serves as an amplifier to the plight of the characters in the film . . . and the plight of the characters is something we all can relate to.

The main protagonists in the story are a fugitive that has been transformed by grace (Jean Valjean) and a woman forced to sell her body to provide for her child (Fantine).  Both of these characters are constantly weathered under the pressures of this world, yet they long for something better.  In this way, all people on this fallen planet can relate to their angst.

Early in the movie, Jean Valjean sings a prayer that highlights the level of his despair:

The cries in the dark that nobody hears,

Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there’s another way to go

I missed it twenty long years ago

My life was a war that could never be won

They gave me a number and murdered Valjean

When they chained me and left me for dead

Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Can’t you just hear the pain and suffering in his prayer?  At one point, Jean Valjean was not a criminal.  He no doubt had hopes and dreams . . . but life had shackled him with disappointments and wanted to squash his hope.  If we are introduced to the difficulty of this world in Valjean, we are overwhelmed by it in the female protagonist Fantine.  In her famous song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” we see how the pain of this world slowly crushed her:

There was a time when men were kind

When their voices were soft

And their words inviting

There was a time when love was blind

And the world was a song

And the song was exciting

There was a time

Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in times gone by

When hope was high

And life worth living

I dreamed that love would never die

I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid

And dreams were made and used and wasted

There was no ransom to be paid

No song unsung

No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night

With their voices soft as thunder

As they tear your hope apart

And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side

He filled my days with endless wonder

He took my childhood in his stride

But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he’ll come to me

That we’ll live the years together

But there are dreams that cannot be

And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

 

As Fantine struggles through her dreams dying, her young daughter Cosette (now orphaned in the care of crooks) sings of hope in this dark world in her song “Castle on a Cloud”:

There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch,
She says “Cosette, I love you very much.”

I know a place where no one’s lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

In her youth, Cosette has not given up on her dreams as her mother had.  Though her world was hard and unfair, she dreamed of something better.  The hope that Cosette ushers in brings a season of reprieve for her new caretaker, Valjean.  For a number of years, Valjean sees a hint of hope in the love he shares with his adopted daughter.  Though not fully realized, the spark of love reminds him of greater things.

After all the struggles of the characters, the closing scene of the movie reveals the place when the hopes of a miserable people are realized . . . in heaven.  In the closing song, these words are proudly sung by many who had already died earlier in the movie:

Fantine:

Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief at last at last behind you
Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy!

Valjean:
Forgive me all my trespasses
And take me to Your glory

Eponine & Fantine:
Take my hand, and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting
(Valjean joins)
And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God!

Chrous:
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.
They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the ploughshed, the will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the baricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!
(Singing chords)
Tomorrow comes!

It is in death, having experienced forgiveness in Christ, that Valjean finds rest, peace, and happiness.  The hope that had slowly built in him throughout the movie is finally realized fully when tomorrow comes.

As I watched this unfold, I was reminded of the truth of Romans 8:18-25:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I do not know for sure if Victor Hugo had Romans 8 in mind when he wrote this story, but his story fits in with this truth quite well.  That is why we relate to it so much . . . that is why it is so emotional.  We live in a sin-stained world that is corrupt and unfair.  While we live here, we hope for something better.  Like a 9 month pregnant woman who has seen the discomfort of her current situation cause her to long more and more for the day she meets her child, the difficulties of this life cause us to long more and more for Tomorrow to come, when Christ returns and sets things right.

There are many other lessons from this story, but I will conclude today with this overarching theme setting the stage:

  • We live in a world that is miserable, so miserable in fact that we may want to give up hope.
  • However, we can maintain hope because a tomorrow is on the horizon when redemption will come.
  • How does that redemption come and how do we experience it?  That is a post for another day.

2 thoughts on “Les Misérables – Reflection #1

  1. Mark,

    Great write-up! I haven’t seen the musical or read the book so I can’t comment. I am really looking forward to the movie though. My 16 year old twins read the book as part of an English assignment last year and one of them now counts Les Mis as his favorite novel. That says a lot about the book as he is a voracious reader. Thanks for continuing to feed my soul.

    Kyle

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