Monday, June 3, 2013

Les Miserables (2012)

Fantine: I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living!~ Les Miserables (2012)
I must admit that Les Miserables has never been one of my favorite musicals. The songs all seem to run together for me except, of course, "I Dreamed a Dream" of the immortal Susan Boyle fame. "I Dreamed a Dream" is the song for anyone who has ever loved and lost. It is given a particularly tragic rendition by Anne Hathaway as Fantine in the 2012 film version of Victor Hugo's epic nineteenth century novel of poverty, injustice and revolution. Fantine, in order to save her child from starvation, sells her hair and teeth and eventually her body in an emotionally devastating scene. Any mother who has ever struggled to support her family amid sickness and hardships can have an inkling of the character's absolute agony. While abandoned mothers and children are nothing new, the number of fatherless families has grown over the past several decades. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Fantine's tragedy resonates so deeply with contemporary Americans.

It is the hero, Jean Valjean, who finds redemption, peace and ultimate happiness by rescuing Fantine's daughter Cosette from brutal guardians, assuming a father's duties and responsibilities for her. Hugh Jackman gives a powerful, heartfelt performance, showing the inner conflicts of a man who sacrifices himself for others again and again simply because he understands that the right thing to do is the only thing to do. In the meantime, he is pursued by the policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), whose obsession with the letter of the law is bereft of all mercy. To see Valjean use his strength and intelligence to help others and especially to build a life for a little girl who is not even his flesh and blood is a moving and uplifting example, placing Hugo's masterpiece among one of the greatest novels of all time.

However, except for the few church scenes, the new film is unremittingly bleak. Perhaps the lack of visual beauty is supposed to make Valjean's moral courage and heroism shine all the more but for me it was too much darkness. But then, that is what life was like for "the miserable ones" of Paris, whose plight is emphasized by the recreation of the labyrinth of medieval streets and neighborhoods which after 1870 no longer existed. Also, the film's emphasis on the June Rebellion of 1832 makes the entire production seem to be a rallying call for proletarian internationalism. Even the ethereal sequence in which Valjean dies and walks to the gates of Heaven is politicized, for Heaven turns out to be a giant barricade where revolutionaries are waving the red flag. The viewers are encouraged to join the Revolution in order to claim their own elusive utopia. Unfortunately for France and other countries, no amount of violence and cultural upheaval has ever produced a perfect world.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) rescues Cosette



Enbrethiliel said...


Why am I not surprised that it was so politicised? =( How disappointing!

Someone once told me that when the stage musical was translated into Japanese, the local cast had to take Theology lessons in order to appreciate Valjean's sacrifice and transformation. It seems as if the cast of the movie took Political History courses instead. =P

Thanks for the review, Elena!

lara77 said...

I never had any intention of watching the film or the play. I am so tired of Victor Hugo and this story! It is always the hated monarchy that is the evil force in France. And of course how the French glorify the barricades and the violence. In my mind it has alwys shown the French to be on a lower scale of development than other nations. On the state visit of the Chiracs to Windsor Castle a number of years ago; Les Miserables was performed for the Queen. Of all the great French plays they perform that at Windsor? Frankly,though there is protocol and being gracious to one's guests; THAT play would have been a nonstarter. Her Majesty showed class; the Chiracs did not.