Les Misérables: The New Movie

 

Victor Hugo wrote “Les Misérables” on the island of Guernsey, one of the British-owned Channel Islands, during his eighteen-year exile from France.

 

I finally got a chance to go and see the film version of the musical Les Misérables.  (I’m a big fan; I was delighted to be able, last summer, to visit the place, on an island in the English Channel, where the novel was written.)  There were some significant though not lethal changes from the stage version, but I’m happy to report that the film is still very overtly religious.  (After I wrote a column about the theism of the musical play a month or so back — a column referring to at least two elements of the stage version that, as a matter of fact, did not survive into the film — one or more of those who responded in the Deseret News comments section argued repeatedly that the musical is purely secular and that I was illegitimately attempting to read Mormonism [!] into it.  This claim struck me then, and still strikes me, as perfectly absurd and transparently false.)  Anybody who watches this movie and, thereafter, seriously tries to argue that it’s purely secular is living, so far as I can tell, in a parallel universe, not mine.

 

It’s a powerful tale of redemption and the transformative power of religious faith.

 

I hope that hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, will continue to experience Les Misérables in one or (preferably) more of its various incarnations — in the original novel by Victor Hugo, in the stage musical, in the old film with Charles Laughton, and/or in this well-done modern film retelling.

 

I had been warned, by the way, that the singing (particularly that by Russell Crowe in the role of Inspector Javert) is weak.  I didn’t find this to be so.  It’s simply different.  And, since it wasn’t recorded in a studio and dubbed, it was actually done by the actors while acting, which gives it very potent emotional impact.  Those who go expecting merely to see a filmed version of the stage musical may be disappointed.  Those who allow the movie to function in its own character as a film will, I think, find it very moving.

 

 

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  • Susan Steinhaus

    This was my first experience with Les Mis. We all (visiting family from California) went out on Christmas afternoon to see it. (5 services in 4 days, we needed something different!) Not remembering my French history I went online when we got home to read up. I read quite a few reviews that thought it sentimental and quaint. I was floored. I thought it was absolutely a movie about Christian faith. It doesn’t get any more real than living out a life of forgiveness and redemption. He (can’t remember the main character’s name) strove to live a Godly life and I feel that he did the best he could. My big mistake was not taking a pocket full of tissues along! By the way Dan, check out our church’s website. My husband Gabriel has a lot of his writings posted there. http://www.stanthonylc.org

    • danpeterson

      Susan:

      Great to hear from you!

      Yes, I think Les Misérables is absolutely, undeniably, a Christian tale of redemption — certainly in the musical version! — and a very, very powerful one. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I look forward to reading through what your husband has written. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Istanbul (the former Constantinople) over the past few years, and, decades ago, very nearly chose to become a Byzantinist. I have a soft spot in my heart for Orthodox Christianity.

      Best wishes for a wonderful 2013.

      Dan

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I saw the musical play on Broadway and loved it. I read the original novel — unabridged — in French — twice. Saw the movie. Total let down. Not only can Russell Crow not sing; the sweet prayer of Jean Valjean for Marius was clearly beyond the talent of Hugh Jackman. This is a movie I wanted to love — but it is a real far cry from being the production it could have been with real singing talent.

  • http://plainandpreciousthing.blogspot.com/ Rozy

    I’ve seen the film version with Liam Neeson in the lead. Can’t imagine it as a musical. But I can see the powerful tale of redemption, mercy and justice. Most of the old classics are religious tales. Heidi is one that comes to mind, I don’t think it has ever been filmed in a way that captures the true meaning of the book. Robinson Crusoe is another powerful story of man’s relationship with God, and the need for a savior.

    Interesting that commenter Blake is so put off by “real” singing. How many normal human beings have Broadway Star quality voices? Perhaps the more realistic voices portray characters that we, mere mortals, can identify with.

    • danpeterson

      Ah. I had forgotten about the Liam Neeson version. I’m not sure that I’ve seen it in its entirety, but I recall liking it. (I’ve liked just about everything Liam Neeson has done.)

      Thanks for reminding me.

      I do think that you would probably like the musical. Listen to a Broadway cast recording sometime, too.

  • Kent G. Budge

    I like Liam Neeson, but the version of Les Mis he starred in didn’t particularly impress me.
    It sounds like this film is worth a shot.
    I wonder if part of the reason some refuse to see the religious elements in the film is that Hugo was a great humanist? Of course, in his time, a humanist could still be religious.

  • Ryan

    I remember when C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out, I was watching a movie show review and they said it that the Christian themes were removed. Like parables, some people just can’t see it. Ironically, Les Miz isn’t a parable. It’s overtly Christian and wonderful tale of forgiveness and compassion. I guess those with “eyes to see” will see it. I will say that the first 45 minutes are some of the hardest, saddest, minutes of film I’ve ever had to watch. Absolutely, horrific seeing man’s cruelty to man and watching a person’s life seemingly fall into such desperation and despair.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Ryan, I read similar things about the films The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Lord of the Rings. Comments like that sometimes make me wonder if it’s possible for someone with no religion to understand religion generally. I don’t say that smugly or snarkily; I just genuinely wonder if having one’s own fervent religious convictions gives one an inevitable advantage in understanding other religions—say, Islam or Buddhism. That doesn’t make me feel superior or anything; I’m just grateful for the insight gained, and sometimes suspect that it might be unique to the religious. I could be wrong, though.

  • Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury

    Another movie with a clear religious message that may have slipped under the radar is M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS. I was intrigued by how he used “science fiction” to get such a message across, and I wonder if the message was only “visible” to those with “eyes to see.”

    • danpeterson

      Curiously, I’ve never seen “Signs.” I’ll make a point of doing so, though.

  • Mike Archer

    Hi,

    This is where Victor Hugo finished writing Les Misérables on Guernsey, Channel Islands – well worth a visit!

    VisitGuernsey – Vicotr Hugo:
    http://www.visitguernsey.com/-arts-and-literature

    Victor Hugos house – gallery
    http://www.victorhugo.gg/gallery/

    Cheers

    Mike


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