Now that my eyes are no longer swollen from sobbing like a baby for nearly three hours, I can actually write out my reaction to seeing Les Miserables.
To put it simply, when I got home from the movie I searched for reviews. More precisely, I typed the phrase “Les Miserables is the Best Movie Ever” into the search bar to see what results came up. I did this so that I could read opinions that directly lined up with my own.
Yeah, I do that sometimes.
Anyway, you should know that normally I am resistant to anything that uses music and images to tug at your emotions. When church pianists start softly playing during prayer, I roll my eyes. When the shivering dog comes on the screen and Sarah McLachlan starts singing in the background, I switch the channel.
You see, I have nothing against dogs, helping dogs, or caring about shivering dogs. And I firmly believe in the power of prayer and that it is vitally important to pray. That’s not the problem. The problem is when I feel like people are trying to manipulate me into feeling a certain way.
But this movie is different. Les Miserables has stark images, incredible acting, and amazing music that are all designed to suck you in and leave you a blubbering pile of tears. And I fell for it.
In case you haven’t realized, I am a huge fan of Les Miserables. When I say huge I mean probably one of the biggest Les Mis geeks around. The first time I saw the musical I was twelve, and I have lost count of how many times I have seen it since. I have seen big-budget productions in London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and I have seen smaller-budget productions in community theaters.
I have read the novel, seen the movies, memorized the soundtrack, and been caught singing at the top of my lungs along with Eponine that I, too, love him only on my own.
So to say that I was excited about this movie coming out is a huge understatement.
But what is it? What is it about this movie that is so powerful? The movie adaptation of Phantom of the Opera didn’t leave me breathless, and although I really enjoyed Chicago and Richard Gere’s tap dancing, I didn’t feel the need to rush home and Google the geekiest thing I could think of.
(Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie yet – stop reading. Turn off your computer. Go and see the movie. Then come back and read the rest of this post.)
I think that the reason this movie is so powerful is because they were able to so accurately portray the different emotions. During the scene when Valjean is praying after receiving the silver, you are not only watching someone grapple with his faith and surrendering his own will; you yourself are caught up in the struggle.
When Fantine is having her beautiful hair cut off, you sense the humiliation she feels. You watch her fall to the lowest point a woman can fall to and you feel her shame and anguish.
When young Cosette whispers that a lady tells her she loves her, your heart longs to reach out to this poor orphan and bring her comfort.
When Eponine crumbles to the ground, overcome with love she knows will never be returned, you feel the pain along with her.
And at the end when Valjean gets to leave his suffering behind, you see the reality of what death means. For the person leaving this earth, there is joy and comfort. But for those left behind, there is immense sorrow. As you watch Cosette dissolve into tears and Valjean peacefully walk into the light, you are flooded with the memories of those that you have lost, and once again you feel the strange combination of comfort and sadness.
Never before have I seen a movie that so vividly captures every emotion that you can experience in your life.
But the deep impact of the movie reaches beyond those heart-wrenching moments.
What has always resonated with me with this story is the epic battle between Valjean and Javert. It is not your typical battle of good and evil. The hero is a convict who has broken parole, and the villain is a policeman, intent on bringing order and civility. It is instead a battle that all of us face, daily. It is the battle between grace and judgment.
Jean Valjean was given the gifts of Grace and Redemption, and he in turn spent his life offering others those very same gifts. Javert could not fathom the idea of Grace, and when he himself was the recipient, he literally could not live with himself. Rather than accept a world where Redemption and Forgiveness are real, Javert chose death.
Every time I consider the actions of Jean Valjean, whether I read them in print or see them portrayed by such greats as Colm Wilkinson, Liam Neeson, or Hugh Jackman, I am forced to stop and consider my own life and my own actions.
Do I show grace? Or do I cling to judgment?
When I encounter the lowest of society, the “sweepings of the street”, am I disgusted by their sin and filth, or am I moved with compassion by their brokenness and pain?
When I am wronged, do I seek revenge or offer forgiveness?
Those are the questions I ask myself. And, to be honest, I’m not always comfortable with my answers.
This is why Les Miserables is the best movie ever. Not because I am a geek, and not because Anne Hathaway gave one of the greatest performances ever captured on film.
It is because it is a story of Redemption, a story of Truth, and a story that makes us all consider who we are, and how we respond to Grace.