Why “Les Miserables” Has the Greatest Ending in Movie History

(“Les Miserables” comes out on DVD March 22.)

I generally roll my eyes at grand generalizations about movies, like “So-and-so is the greatest actor of his generation!” Those kinds of sentiments are a matter of subjective opinion, especially when they apply to actors who are barely in their twenties.

Yet today, I’m going to make that kind of grand generalization myself by declaring the ending of Tom Hooper’s Christopher Award-winning film “Les Miserables” the greatest ending in movie history. Why? Because it’s the story-ending to which we all aspire.

Jean Valjean endured great hardship in his life and was on a dead-end road before a Christ-like bishop provided him with mercy and a second chance. He came to accept responsibility not just for his own life, but the lives of those he grew to love: primarily, his adoptive daughter, Cosette. Valjean was indirectly responsible for her mother, Fantine’s, death and took in her little girl as a penance of sorts. But that penance quickly became a type of love that Valjean had never experienced before. It was self-sacrificial and, in its own way, Christ-like.

When the movie ends and Valjean dies, his passing isn’t sad and depressing; it’s celebratory and glorious! He is led into heaven by the bishop who showed him mercy – and by Fantine to whom he showed compassion. The lyrics sung during this scene state, “Take my hand / And lead me to salvation / Take my love / For love is everlasting / And remember the truth that once was spoken: / To love another person is to see the face of God.”

I’ve never seen a better, more emotionally-satisfying depiction of heaven and the communion of saints on the big screen. And considering all the sniffles and snot-cries I heard in the theater when I saw the movie, a lot of other people had that reaction too.

The reason is that Valjean’s ending is the ending we all want for ourselves, the ending that’s actually a new beginning in communion with all the people we’ve ever loved a lot or a little, the ending made possible by Jesus’ resurrection which we’ll soon be celebrating.

This inherent longing we all feel for love that never ends is a fundamental truth of Christianity that was also beautifully expressed by “Love and Salt” authors Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith, who I wrote about earlier this week. Just as with Valjean, Amy and Jessica came to experience love, God and faith in entirely new ways after having children. It helped them to firmly believe the “absolute truth that love is eternal.”

That concept was a great comfort to Jessica, who lost her mother when she was young. She said, “I needed a way to feel that this story was not over with my mother and the other people we had lost – that we were going to be able to have some connection with them.”

Amy, who had endured the death of her baby daughter, agreed, saying, “The communion of saints has given me so much comfort. One of the things I love the most in the Church is the litany of saints. It gives me this sense of continuum between the friends and community we have here, and the community beyond the grave – that this community is going to somehow become that community…There is this invisible barrier between us, but we’re all standing there facing each other and knowing that it’s only a matter of time before we will come to the banquet together.”

Les Miserables” is the perfect image of that banquet that never ends, of the reunion that will happen if we lead our lives in the right way – loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Love, the film assures us, is eternal. Who could ask for a better ending?


About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I didn’t think that highly of the movie (the singing was poor, and for a musical that’s the crux of the art) but you are right. That was a great ending.

  • calahalexander

    I’m entering without reading the post, cause I still haven’t seen the movie. It’s really awful to be an hour from the nearest movie theater.

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Calah, if there was ever a movie worth driving an hour for, this is it. I’ve read the book (back in high school), seen the stage play (twice) and the movie (once), and bought the soundtrack. What remains is for me to win Tony’s prize here…. Actually, I appreciate the perspective on this film’s place in history.

    And I don’t hate the singing–the movie rises over the voices, the characters were strong, and it’s better than using a voice double like Marni Nixon. One thing I do hate is that the actors put their health at risk in preparing for the film–going on crash diets to lose weight in a very short time frame.

  • http://www.catholiccrossreference.com/ Jeffrey Pinyan

    I like the musical and the non-musical versions of the story, and I promise to get around to reading the book one day.

    Having the DVD of the movie-musical may help or hinder that. I’ll let you decide.

  • Jeanne M

    I’ve never cried so much and so hard during any movie as I did this latest version of LesMis. I’ve seen other versions but none have had this much of an effect on me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/ Julie D.

    I loved the entire thing, even Russell Crowe’s singing which works if you think of it like the character he portrays … earnestly aspiring to give God the glory in all things, even if he is wrong about just how he should do those things. :-D

    I had forgotten the ending. Thank you so much Tony for reminding me. At first I was taken aback rather and then as I saw all the people I realized just how much we may be surprised by Heaven and the people we find there. And how overcome we will be by the joy and energy of the saints there. :-)

  • Raul Capitulo

    Very long musical movie but like it.

  • Ebere

    I watched the stage musical performance of Les Miserables with my family last year. It was beautiful and we were held spellbound through it all. We can’t wait to watch the movie.

  • http://skepticalsports.com Benjamin Morris

    I don’t think I agree with the superlative from a pure film perspective. I generally think Chinatown has the best ending, though it’s about the opposite on the bleakness scale from Les Mis.

    As for the book, I’ve actually argued myself that it has the single best ending of any novel I’ve ever read. It’s a bit different from the musical/movie version, but it emphasizes similar points even more emphatically.

    I read Les Mis during a field training operation (a while back), and when I approached the end I had to pretend I was sick to get someone to take over my shift monitoring the radio, while I hid in my tent and literally wept for hours.

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/LadyJaneDarcy Jane

    The ending to the film is so beautiful & I’m actually shedding tears just thinking about it & hearing the music in my head. I had never seen the play or read the book until I was subbing in choir last spring & showed the 25th anniversary concert to 3 classes. The spring musical was going to be Les Mis & some of the students performing in it were in one of the choir classes. I am so glad I saw the dvd & then saw them perform the play. They did a brilliant job. If I hadn’t seen it then I might not have seen this movie. It’s so beautiful.

  • Julie

    The story of Les Mis has been inspiring me for over 20 years. The movie provided new insights and depth and I could not agree more with this beautiful post. I saw it twice in the theaters and cannot wait to see it on DVD.

  • http://Www.CatholicAllYear.com Kendra T.

    Great article. I agree about the ending, and this movie’s ending is even more satisfying than the book or broadway show, because the bishop’s role is highlighted again.

    And Julie, I LOVE your take on Javert’s singing. That’s officially how I’m going to look at it from now on.

  • Ed Hopkins

    It was a beautiful ending–heart-hurtingingly beautiful. I have never been so moved by film before.

  • Stephanie

    So excited they finally released a more complete soundtrack, but too bad I already bought the highlights. Sneaky. I would love to win the DVD of one of my favorite films of the year!

  • http://scribbleoutloud.blogspot.com Margaret

    I loved the ending you’ve described, but I also love the coda that comes after that – when we see the rebuilt barricade. What a fantastic image of redemption for all the characters, especially after so many of them died for a revolution that didn’t accomplish its goals. That last song gave me hope that the struggle for justice may yet succeed. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf Julie Davis

      As of course it will … God’s perfect justice combined with His perfect mercy. :-)

  • Steve ALlen

    Looking forward to my own copy of an outstandng film

  • Debi

    The first time I saw the movie I cried when Fantine fell and when Jean and the others died. The second time I began crying when the Monsignor first offered Jean help. Wonderful story. Wonderfully done.

  • Jean Pergande

    Would love to win this DVD. Thanks, Tony

  • Rachel

    Very much agree…an ending that is really a beginning! Very beautiful.

  • Mary Monastesse

    I, too, loved the movie and was extremely disappointed that it didn’t win Oscar’s Best Picture. The singing was hauntingly beautiful. Russell Crowe was wonderful as Javert. I loved each and every character and each song. So excited the full soundtrack is finally out.

  • Clare Krishan

    Agree wholeheartedly with Julie D. and Kendra T. about Russell Crowe’s truely “fit for purpose” performance: the jarred delivery communicated the state of his soul precisely: a marred harmony with his fellow men. That Manny is the “the crux of the art” (as production designer Eve Stewart puts it “to get amazing carpenters not to build things with straight lines”
    Transcendent divinity is an unpredictable 3-dimensional mystery formed in our heart not a predictable two-dimensional intersection of “ought” and “is” we form in our head. (recall Theresa of Avila’s famous dictum “Dios escribe derecho con renglones torcidos”)

    What I would add as a distinct comment is the beauty of the metaphorical image in the closing scene in the cloisters (from Latin claustrum, “enclosure”): an enclosed garden is a Patristic type of Mary’s immaculate purity of soul (the sorrowful mother figure Fantine appears on the periphery in the scene). Obviously also a symbol for the blessed security of Eternal Rest in the Good Shepherd’s sheepfold, but this scene of the movie is no mere sentimental pastiche of Gothic arches and candlestick nostalgia for “ye olde worlde” its clearly an authentic Catholic conception featuring a heavenly mother beside a heavenly father (Bishop). The barricade scene risks immenentising the escaton, so it’s not my favorite part of the movie (Fantine’s solo was so wrenching its etched in my memory, not as a vision of Hell but of mercy: for even after witnessing all she’d witnessed, she desired the good, the true, and the beautiful, not revenge)

  • http://thejoyofbloggin.blogspot.com Joey M

    I would love to win a copy of Les Mis. I haven’t seen it yet, but I want to so bad!!! engineergirl@mail.com
    Thank you!

  • linda in WI

    I haven’t yet seen this movie either, like several of your commenters. I look forward to doing so!

  • Denise

    The movie did justice to what I remember from seeing the stage version. Thanks for your view of the Les Miserables ending, and for the connection to Love and Salt.

  • http://yenythinks.blogspot.com/ Yeny F.

    I haven’t seen it yet, but seems like you liked it a lot and a lot of the people commenting did as well. Fingers crossed!!! yestfl@hotmail.com

  • Kerry

    My life was deeply changed when I saw Les Miserables on Broadway about 20 years ago. Since then I have desired to live a life like Jean Valjean who actually mirrors the life of Christ. Each movie has brought out a different aspect of goodness and truth from the beautiful story that Victor Hugo wrote for us. But this movie impacted me in an entirely new way–it gave me courage to try once again to live a life of constant conversion and a great hope for the future. Because I was so incredibly moved by it, I decided to read the book and I just finished about an hour ago. I would like to own the movie so that I might be inspired again and again and to have the chance to share it with others.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    Agree with you mostly, but I think the ending of the stage show is even more satisfying and that the barricade makes absolutely no sense at all. To be frank, I found the sudden, inexplicable appearance of the barricade bizarre and it jarred me out of my appreciation of what is a trascendent ending. However, the people whom I saw it with (who had not seen the show) LOVED it. Here’s my review, in case anyone’s interested:

  • Stephen N.

    I borrowed my friends copy last night after hearing so many good things about this film and boy was I surprised. It was way better than I ever expected! I’m not really one for musicals but there was something different about this one. I am actually planning on watching it again soon.

  • steve

    I absolutely, loved the movie and would love to win a copy! :)

  • Scott

    The ending was the most tear-jerking moment of the movie!

  • Kathleen

    Yes please.

  • patricia goldspring

    I have just watched les miserable for the third time, once at the movies where everyone in theather clapped and twice on dvd, and every time the closing scene has brought me to tears, I was blessed to see live play in London, as yes my daughter and I cried, I would have to say play and movie on parr with each other a movie to treasure

  • Nick

    My most favourite movie of all time, the ending is the most emotional scene or thing I’ve ever seen! First time I watched it, I was still crying 30 minutes later! I love Les Misérables <3