I know this is a book review blog, but I cannot resist plugging this movie. Ok, so I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I know the story. I’ve seen the live stage play, and I show the Les Mis 25th Anniversary Concert to my drama classes every semester. Les Miserables is a beautiful story of love, sacrifice, and most of all redemption. It is theologically spot on while being artistically stunning. From what I have read, this latest film adaptation is no exception.
When I show Les Mis to my drama students, there are always a few who merely tolerate it – who roll their eyes and seem to make a concerted effort to avoid enjoying this movie. But then there are those who fall in love with it, as I have. These students, many of whom have never seen a real musical and who consider The Hangover a great cinematic achievement, become totally engrossed in the story. Many go home and buy their own copy of the video. It thrills me to get to introduce my students to this story and to these songs.
Set in 19th century Paris, Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who is released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. With the help of a kindly bishop, Valjean sets out to start a new life. He breaks parole, and within a few years, becomes a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of small town.
When Fantine (Anne Hathaway) a worker in his factory is unjustly fired, by a cruel foreman, she is forced into a life of prostitution. Upon discovering her on her deathbed, Valjean agrees to raise her young daughter, Cosette, who has been in the custody of a the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), a couple of cruel inn keepers. But first, Valjean must face his past and Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who has been tracking Valjean for years. Eventually Valjean is able to raise Cosette and the two live for several years in quiet contentment. But when a worker’s revolution breaks out in Paris, they find themselves caught in the middle, and their lives and the lives of nearly everyone they encounter are changed forever.
I’m not sure how violent the movie is, but the story is set against the backdrop of a violent revolution. I’m just going to make my kids close their eyes during that part.
The Thenardiers are very bawdy. Some of the songs, which are meant to provide comic relief, contain foul language and sexual content.
Well, there’s Fantine’s prostitution. The song’s about that are pretty sexual. And again, there’s the Thenardiers.
As I said before, this story is theologically spot on. It is only because Valjean’s soul is “purchased for God” by the bishop that Valjean is able to start a new life. Throughout the story, the character’s reference God, forgiveness, and salvation.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
How does the bishop’s kindness change Jean Valjean’s life forever?
Javert is not purely evil. Rather he is obsessed with only one aspect of God’s nature – justice. How does this over emphasis on justice, distort Javert’s view of Valjean? How does this ultimately affect Javert?
How does Valjean’s kindness to Fantine, redeem her life? And Cosettes?
What other sacrifices does Jean Valjean make? Whose lives are effected by these?
This is not necessarily the kind of movie that is better because of the “surprises.” Rather, familiarity with the plot, might help some viewers follow the film version. I highly recommend The 25th Anniversary Concert, featuring, believe it or not, a brilliant performance by Nick Jonas. Also, a quick Google search for a synopsis might be very helpful.