Les Mis: Just Men, Minimized Women and Immodesty?

Two very different women, coming from very different perspectives, are unhappy with Les Miserable. Their unhappiness reminds us that though we polish and burnish our preferred lenses, we obscure our own capacity to see.

Feminist author Stacy Wolf takes to the pages of the WaPo to report that as a feminist, all she could see was the bad men and victim women who populate her daily thoughts; width and breadth are just words:

. . .in “Les Miz,” female characters are there only for the men to save, pity or forget. As Fantine, a hooker with a heart of gold, [Anne] Hathaway does little but receive generosity from unfairly imprisoned fugitive Jean Valjean, who agrees to raise her illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Like her mother, Cosette is window-dressing — objet d’amour of Marius, a revolutionary student who wavers between his love for her and his devotion to politics. Meanwhile, Eponine, a striving girl, pines for Marius, a man beyond her station, then dies for his cause.

The women of “Les Miz” trigger the men’s ethical struggles and bravery, but they don’t actually do anything. Instead, they emote, propelling others to action….

…We understand ourselves and our identities because of the stories we’re told. When we hear the same stories about people…we start to believe them. If our culture tells us that women should sacrifice themselves for their children or for men’s careers, we find it unremarkable that the women of “Les Miz” do just that. We seldom notice that they’re largely invisible in a blockbuster film likely to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards.But for anyone who thinks critically about gender, it’s unsettling.

It’s only unsettling, I guess, if all you can critically think about is gender, or one’s sex. If one can dare to take off the agenda-lenses for a few minutes, one can, as Deacon Greg — in a rare bit of opining — points out, see the characters in this story as actual human people, more than the sum of their sexes.

When did martyrdom—selflessness, death to self for the sake of another, particularly one’s child— become demeaning?

[Wolf] misses a few critical points. She fails to note that a significant part of Fantine’s tragic fate is set in motion not by mean men, but by spiteful women (her factory co-workers). She also fails to see beyond her own gender fixations to appreciate the deeper spiritual currents that carry the story along…“Les Miserables” is concerned with much more than gender roles. [It is] about redemption and mercy, commitment and fidelity. It resonates with so many around the world because it speaks to old fashioned virtues like honor, faith, integrity, courage and — spoiler alert — love. And that includes both the male and female characters—so many of whom are willing to sacrifice everything for what they believe in (or, very often, for those they love.)

Viewing this through her particular prism, Ms. Wolf perhaps finds it shocking for a woman to lay down her life for something as inconsequential and burdensome as her own child; I suspect she also can’t imagine the sense of duty that might bring a man to spend his life seeking to fulfill a vow he made to a woman. And why on earth would a man risk his own life for the sake of a little girl? Though Ms. Wolf may not realize it, the inconvenient truth is that “Les Miserables” actually pivots around women—and in particular, the women who change one man’s life, compelling him to heroism and, even, sanctity. Jean Valjean is transformed, converted, saved, through his selfless actions on behalf of Fantine and Cosette; it is ultimately Fantine who at story’s end takes his arm and leads him to his reward.

If we have reached a point where we consider that kind of gender role sexist or demeaning, something is wrong.

Well, something is wrong, but it’s not exclusive to Wolf or to feminism. On the other end of the spectrum, we find someone who takes issue with the film, and urges others not to see it (or to wait until it comes out on video and can be self-edited) because of modesty issues. Katie at The Catholic Wife blog:

I don’t recommend the movie because, at least while it’s in theaters, you can’t skip over the gross sexuality on display, and on such a huge scale. In addition to the general sexuality within the first part of the movie (completely through “Master of House”), there were two sexual scenes/shots – one could have been cut entirely and the other didn’t have to be nearly as explicit as it was. If you’ve seen it, I’m referring to the entire “Lovely Ladies” scene including Fantine’s first “client” as well as the general behavior in “Master of the House,” which includes the “Santa shot.” [Spoiler alert] –> Silly me, I didn’t realize how involved the on-screen adaptation would be once Fantine sold herself into prostitution, especially once Hollywood got a hold of it; even setting her tragic situation aside, the blatant immodesty among other characters (both main and chorus) was already too much, but was then further emphasized by cinematography. How many shots of overly revealing attire do you need??

Les Mis, as a movie, was poisoned by both significant and subtle exploitation of sexuality and the human body; and what could have been a beautiful story purely portrayed left a bad taste of “it was ok, but…” It’s a genuine tragedy since so many Catholic themes are presented throughout the rest of the film, including God’s saving grace, the welcoming charity among religious communities, the difference between allowing your heart to be softened by faith versus hardened within it (Valjean vs. Javert), and a monsignor who shows remarkable compassion and mercy. Thank God I can find this actualized elsewhere.

It’s true that one can find this “actualized elsewhere” but it seems to me that when we’re dealing with adult themes like prostitution, social expulsion and sin — and when we know we will be watching vulgarians singing in a vulgar setting — we should be prepared to see some visual representation of those themes, and that some distinction can be made between pornographic excess and a representation of reality. Les Mis is not, after all, a Disney production. Having not yet seen the movie I don’t know how lascivious the thing is — this is the first such complaint I have read — but it comes on the heels of my reading an online comment a few days ago, suggesting that Catholics ought to avoid the ballet, because of modestly issues that might foment an occasion of sin.

As Deacon Greg writes earlier, if this is what we’ve come to, something is wrong. If our avenues to humanity are going to be detoured via one-way-streets of gender-obsession; if our access to God is going to be limited to art that conforms to an idea of virtue so strict as to eliminate depictions of beauty (or ugliness) for fear of temptation, then we are going to diminish our thinking, and therefore our understanding of both God and humanity, until our world and our souls become very, very small.

Here is Correggio’s Madonna del Latte — the Madonna of the Milk. Mary’s exposed breast brings sustenance to the Creator Incarnate and encourages the pondering of mystery upon mystery, a furtherance of comprehension, in so far as we may comprehend. I wonder if Wolf would look upon it and merely see “a woman reduced to her biology, useful only as a milk-production site.” I wonder if Katie would avert her eyes from the immodest breast, thankful that she can find this reality actualized in text, somewhere, or in her own life, so purity may not be wounded.

Understand, I am not being remotely snarky or sarcastic, here — I have no issue with either of these female writers; for all I know they are perfectly wonderful, intelligent people who do much good as they walk the earth. I’m simply wondering at what point any of us — “liberal” or “conservative” — risk choking our own ability to be generous to humanity, or to even see humanity in its fullness, because our interior vision has become, like a carotid artery, clogged with the plaque and detritus of what we have been smoking and chewing on most obsessively.

And if we cannot see the fullness of humanity, because we are too busy policing it across gender lines or measuring its bodice, we will never be able to comprehend the fullness of God, who is all width and breadth. He is already more than we can take in, but especially when our lenses are fixed and locked upon one location.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.thecatholicwife.net Katie

    An interesting question – and since you wondered – I wouldn’t avert my eyes from the “immodest breast” because the purpose of the painting is to portray beauty, a nurturing mother, and the love she has for her Son. The sexuality on display in Les Miserables doesn’t share in the intentions of Correggio’s piece; I think it’s possible to appreciate the difference between revealing oneself for the sake of portraying prostitution in a movie and the Blessed Mother revealing herself to nurse the Infant Jesus.

    My gratitude at finding elsewhere the Catholic themes within Les Mis stems from knowing they exist in reality and that I need not rely on their portrayal from the movie industry. It’s as simple as that. I ask this in all sincerity: is avoiding a movie because of its sexual content being a “prude” or should I allow myself to view these things (as I’ve done before) and gloss over them for a great production?

    I loved your thoughts on being too extreme as either a “liberal” or “conservative,” and the consequences of constantly measuring according to each one. It’s certainly necessary, in order to see God, to maintain moderation in these respects.

    Thank you for your insight.

    Thanks for your response, Katie; I appreciate it. I got busy this afternoon and was unable to respond until now. I think people can disagree about what constitutes limits, but it’s important to ask the questions, don’t you think? If for no other reason than to keep ourselves honest. I did not say or imply that you are prudish — and I hope you didn’t take it that way — but clearly what some ppl consider “beyond the line” others think reasonable or even tastefully done.

    This is a discussion I’ve had elsewhere, too, ie “what point does our attention to the sinful themes overwhelm all of the themes of mercy, forgiveness, “the face of God” within the piece?” Or, in other words, if what one predominantly sees and takes away from the thing is the “impure parts” rather than the heartening whole, then do we need to check our thinking?

    It is a worthwhile conversation to have, I think. As far as I know, the church has not found the film offensive, and truly yours was the only comment I’d seen anywhere in Catholic media that raised the issue. This lady, for instance, is someone who is very concerned with issues of purity/modesty as well, but she simply didn’t take away the same thoughts…

    As to the “purpose of the painting” of the Madonna, I’m really glad to hear you wouldn’t be offended by it, but when you write “I think it’s possible to appreciate the difference between revealing oneself for the sake of portraying prostitution in a movie and the Blessed Mother revealing herself to nurse the Infant Jesus,” you help to emphasize my point that distinctions should be made between what is real pornography and what is a deft (or not deft) handling of a delicate adult theme; and also, I suppose to not presume to know the intention of another. What you found immodest in dress may be historical (it was France, after all! ), and can we know with a certainty that the director INTENDED to give offense or titillate?

    As I wrote in the piece, some wonder if Catholics ought to abandon the ballet as an occasion of sin it suggests to me that things have become extreme, and ppl are losing the ability to make those distinctions. It was barely ten years ago that John Ashcroft wondered if a statue in Congress should be covered because of a bare breast, and he had his defenders. Thanks much for writing. You express yourself very well! I’ll be reading you again! – Elizabeth

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

    Having seen the film I actually had to stop and think back over the parts mentioned to see where there was “gross sexuality” on display. The most I could come up with was a brief (and for the movies, quite discreet) portrayal of the final point of Fantine’s decline into prostitution. My thought upon seeing that part (with the soldier) was not of sexuality but of extreme sadness, of wanting to rescue Fantine. For me that scene put the point to the horror of Fantine’s rapid descent from a person to a thing.

    Likewise, the Master of the House sequence was disturbing because of the complete lack of empathy for any potential victim who fell into that evil couple’s clutches. We see clearly through their eyes that people are only good for fleecing and for what gain can be gotten. The sequence was clever but overall it communicated a greater truth … of what misery follows when people are only out for their own gain. That couple cares only for each other (marginally) and for themselves.

    As a friend said when reviewing Les Miserables, “It made me want to be a better person.”

    Those sequences are integral to the entire experience of making us see what it means to fall and what it means to want God’s grace.

    If one is disturbed by what was being shown, then it is wise to not watch it. It isn’t medicine that that particular person needs. But for the rest of us, who love a movie that is unafraid to have God be at the heart even while speaking to the general public, it is a wonder and a treasure and to be embraced, not avoided.

  • http://Janehartman.com Jane Hartman

    With one agenda, that of feminism, we fail to see redemption in the piece. We fail to see the transcendent beauty in the story, much less the glorious music and photography or the struggle for humanity (all of us) in general. Compared to current movies and television like the Tudors from Great Britain, it’s positively tame. We need more movies that show the truth and hope that resides in the church when one like Valjean begins to believe and live the faith.

  • http://truthandcharity.net Andrew Sciba

    Elizabeth,

    I think it might do you good to refer to the Catechism’s definition of pornography:
    2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense.

    I find it unfortunate and unfortunately telling that you have set The Catholic Wife author as a strawman for your article. Her position was against the sexuality on display in the movie, which meets the Catechism’s teaching on pornography and by mocking this position, you seem to have placed yourself solidly against said teaching.

    It should be noted that the Catechism definition of pornography says nothing about nudity. While pornography is most often to be understood as involving nudity, it is not necessary for something to act as pornography. Nudity is not an essential part of pornography and neither is it an essential part of art, yet it exists in extremely different ways in both of those mediums. I think it is unreasonable for you to have supposed that The Catholic Wife cannot recognize the difference between the two, especially since it was you who brought up the subject of nudity.

    [I am cognizant of the irony that in telling me I misread another, you are misreading me. :-) I did not use Katie as a "straw man" or suppose she could not tell the difference, and I most emphatically did not mock her and made a point of spelling that out in case anyone supposed otherwise, as you have.

    Generally, when I have mocked people there has never been a doubt as to what I am doing -- I can be a perfect fiend, sometimes -- but as I have written here, in obedience to Christ I am determined not to mock anyone, but to treat all with respect. In this case, I simply wondered where Katie drew her lines, which is a legitimate question to ask in the context of my whole piece and where I was going with it. You've used a bit of a straw man, yourself, here, in accusing me of intentions I do not have, knowing (as you must) that I cannot prove a negative.

    I'm as fond of the catechism as anyone, but it sometimes seems to me that Catholics use it the way Evangelical Christians use the bible -- as a defining last word to be quoted chapter and verse without the contextual spirit of the thing, and the spirit of the Catechism is, like the church itself (and the film) all about finding salvation through the mysteries of mercy, grace and love. I fail at love way too often, but I do not accept an accusation of doing so, here. -admin]

  • Michelle

    I agree with Julie on all points. I would like to add that the depiction of prostitution was rightfully not glossed over. I think the movie successfully portrayed all the evilness and ugliness of prostitution. We sometimes need to be remined how bad it is. I would venture to say that every city or town has women who have fallen into that life. Most of us don’t see them and therefore, we don’t think about them. When we see those scences in Les Mis we should feel a profound sorrow for Fantine and all women who have found themselves in that situation. We should be moved to help, not to avert our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.

  • http://truthandcharity.net Andrew Sciba

    Elizabeth,

    I would like to say privately that it is disheartening that you used an image of Our Lady as a catalyst to mock The Catholic Wife. Regardless of the topic of discussion, I think it was below the dignity due to Mary. You do a lot of good for the Catholic blogosphere and I know you are creative enough to have easily found another example to make your point.

    Andrew

    [Andrew, if you wanted to be private, a combox is a dubious choice. :-) I went out of my way to be clear that I was not in any way mocking or snarking at either Wolf or the Catholic Wife -- NOR did I use an image of Our Lady as a catalyst to same. The image is gorgeous; I wrote a piece that legitimately asks (as Katie seems to understand) where we risk narrowing our understanding by being too careful, whether that comes from the "politically correct" side or the spiritual. People might disagree on the answer, but it's a fair question to ask. I'm sorry you are offended, but no offense was intended, as I wrote in the piece. Asking questions about our shared human foibles and ways shouldn't be off limits. Since I cannot "prove" to you that there was no malice, I won't try to. 7 years of blogging has taught me that people believe what they want to believe. Those years should also speak for themselves as to my reverence for Our Lady, and -- I should think -- would at least win be a "benefit of a doubt" from any fair-minded person. Peace. -admin]

  • CarolHS

    “And if we cannot see the fullness of humanity, because we are too busy policing it across gender lines or measuring its bodice, we will never be able to comprehend the fullness of God, who is all width and breadth.”

    Agree completely.

    However ;)
    I would recommend parents preview Les Mis before allowing anyone under 13 to see it. Only you know what your child is ready to see. For adults, I heartily recommend this movie. I loved it. I rarely see movies in the theater because there is just so much dreck, but this movie was definitely worth the ticket price.

  • Laura

    Headed to see it tonight with the hubby to celebrate our third anniversary. With two babes in three years, we’re NFP-ing tonight, so I hope he doesn’t enjoy the movie too much. ;)

    I am disappointed to hear that it may be more lascivious than I would like, but I agree with you, Ms. Scalia: it’s not anything I would put past Hollywood. I can understand some people’s desire to skip it or self-edit it–but to harp on a minor point: to skip the ballet? For reals? As a teenager, I trained seriously for a career in ballet and never thought my clothes or moves immodest in themselves. In fact, the first time I heard anything about that was from my rather scrupulous sister in law and her minions. Do we not understand art anymore? If you’re going to be concerned about ballet, be concerned with the way in which dancers are treated like paint colors on a choreographer’s canvas, and less like humans; not with the fact their stunning arabesques are so finely delineated by their leotards.

  • Patty

    Agreeing with CarolHS.

    I found the other depictions of the violation of dignity of the human person far more disturbing than the scenes of prostitution and the “Master of the House” sequence. I thought the prostitution scene was well-done and not at all gratuitous. I found the Master of the House sequence grotesque, but it was intended to be, I believe. What I found disturbing? The suffering Valjean undergoes at the hands of others before he finds the monastery. The way the women in the factory incited the foreman to throw Fantine out. The ruthless taking of lives, especially that of the child, in the uprising. I had my eyes covered for good parts of those scenes.

    Please bear in mind I rarely go to movies and sobbed after watching all the violence in The Hobbit. I won’t be taking my children to the next two installments because it’s apparently not medicine I need (thank you Julie).

    Interesting how different people find different scenes hard to take.

  • HappyCatholic

    Could it be that it is one thing to know such evil exists but it is another to have it blown up into living color, larger than life? Is it maybe too much…too much sensory overload? As the old adage goes, “I don’t have to actually swim in a sewer to know it is not a good idea.” Likewise, I can be aware of the evils of prostitution without having to see it graphically portrayed larger than life. Just asking.
    My daughters did see the movie; I did not because there is enough emotion in my life right now without going to look for more. However, one daughter (in her later twenties) did find the scenes Katie mentioned as rather graphic and disturbing. It sounds like one of those situations wherein people of good will can draw different lines.
    Nonetheless, Katie does present a point worth contemplating: have we become too jaded, too accustomed to things which should be left to the imagination being graphically displayed because of the visual-ness of our media, eg movies? I can imagine Jesus reaching out with healing to the prostitute but not necessarily having to go see it graphically portrayed in a movie. These are just musings but given how over the top our culture has become, I wonder if we have become too desensitized. I do not know the answer.

    [Thanks for a thoughtful response. Unsure why you used the name "Happy Catholic" in your comment, though, and since that's generally understood to be Julie Davis (indeed, at first I assumed it was Julie) it's only fair for me to note that this commenter is NOT Julie Davis. If commenting in the future, please consider using a different username, as this one will cause confusion. Thanks. admin]

  • http://www.fountainsofhome.blogspot.com Christy

    I love your points Elizabeth and they are spot on as always! We make the world so much smaller when we choose to refuse to see the truth of life, be it the truth of beauty or ugliness.
    I saw the movie, and I was struck by the Fantine scene, as I thought it painfully displayed the tragic use of a person in prostitution. It was ugly, but I felt the impact was important enough to make Fantine’s suffering much more real to the viewer. What makes Les Mis such a beautiful story is that mercy, love, and forgiveness really do triumph over the ugly, the using, the pure tragedies and evils. To take away the ugliness in a way diminishes the beautiful display of love.

    ["To take away the ugliness in a way diminishes the beautiful display of love." This is the same argument I make against monastic houses who edit the psalms in order to remove negatives, particularly in the "cursing" psalms. I understand their reasoning, but I think ultimately it's dishonest and it robs both the Office and the Spirit-inspired prayers of the psalms, which represent the totality of the human condition, right down to our darkest depths, and we can be very dark, indeed. To edit out the negatives in order to only use the positives seems like a willful choice to pretend that the negatives are not there. It ultimately gives a skewed view, or reflection, of who we are at our depths. There may be no negatives in Christ, but sadly there are plenty in us. -admin]

  • Mandy P.

    I can’t help but wonder if the “feminist” writer you quote has stopped to consider that in the period portrayed in Les Mis women’s roles were pretty much exactly as the show plays them? It would be odd, indeed, if a woman strode out onto the stage and led the revolutionary battles, for example. The idea of “strong women” leading the charge or doing “big” things is a relatively modern one. There is a reason why we have lots of Pattons and Custers and Washington’s and only one Joan of Arc, you know. That’s certainly not to minimize women over the centuries, only to say that in times gone by our roles and circle of influence were vastly different than they are today and it is in no way demeaning to women or anti-woman to portray those times accurately.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A great debate. Some of the comments made me wonder what some people would have done to John’s Gospel because of the part about the woman caught in adultery.
    Also, I was reminded of a scene in John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” It was almost 50 years ago that I read it in college. The book was originally published during the Depression and, if I recall correctly, included a scene wherein a woman saved a starving man’s life by breast feeding him. I wonder how the people of that era reacted to that scene. How do some people feel about such a scene in a book today???

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christophers/ Tony Rossi

    I have to object to the assertion that the film is poisoned by gross sexuality because it insinuates that I – a single heterosexual male – will become drooling and lascivious at the described scenes, leading me to objectify the women therein as sexual objects. The scene with Fantine, for instance, didn’t leave me feeling titillated but rather feeling disheartened at her character’s despair. And if all depictions of cleavage or sexual suggestiveness are off limits, then Shakespeare’s plays would also need to be denounced. Minimizing the beauty and citing only the sin makes sin more powerful than beauty. And that’s not a good thing.

  • Sue from Buffalo

    I saw the movie and was very disturbed for days after. As far as the sexual scenes…I avert my eyes and don’t want those pictures in my head even if it does move the story forward. I love the story of redemption and the way the Church was portrayed. There were two sexual scenes, not just one. There was the unnecessary scene with Father Christmas. It came on fast and was too graphic for me. Ok ok. I know there are far worse scenes in Hollywood. That’s why I don’t go see those movies/tv shows either. What upset me so much was the utter despair and the evil that I saw. I wanted to cry. Putting a face to evil….and seeing the consequences…is just very difficult.

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com EBL

    Les Miserables: A review…

    While it may be more than young children should see, it is a play I would definitely recommend for teenagers. And while Fantine does get treated badly, she does not come off as a mere pathetic victim, but a tragic heroic figure. There is a difference.

  • Peggy R

    I have to confess I have no interest in the film. I saw the musical years ago and found it way too melodramatic for me. I’ve read much melodramatic French literature–too much to bear.

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

    I haven’t seen the film yet (maybe this weekend) so I can’t comment on whether it crossed any boundary. Are there any boundaries any more? It seems to me that every major film, if it’s to be considered major, must have some obligatory sex scene or two. It would not surprise me if they stuck in some gratuitous titillation.

    As to the feminist critique, give me a break. This is Victor Hugo’s story around two male characters. Is it male centric? Perhaps, but when I read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (roughly a contemporary of Hugo) do I find them female centric? Absolutely. Do I complain? No, it’s what I would expect. Unless an author is consciously trying to cross over to the opposite gender’s perspective, say Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, then their story will be filtered and shaped by his or hers experience. Again this is Victor Hugo’s story, not Jane Austin’s. Modern day Feminism is so shallow.

    May I put in a shameless plug for my new blog for those that might be interested, where I only blog about literature and arts, no politics or issues of the day.
    http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  • Drew

    Dear Ms. Scalia,

    Interesting comparison of viewpoints. Here’s looking forward to reading your thoughts on the film, and on these two critiques after you’ve seen it.

    I think you miss an important point about Wolf. For all her complaining about the gender stereotyping she did say, “but I can’t help it: I love Les Miz.”

    I also think you’re a bit harsh on Catholic Wife. After all, her point was that it’s wrong to portray sexual excess, but that the sex spoiled the movie. For her, the stage production seemed to portray the themes just fine. It’s Hollywood that took it overboard.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Yours,

    Drew

  • HappyCatholic

    Admin:

    Sorry for the confusion with the name. That is the name I have on other blogs; I had no idea it was already in use here. I have been a longtime lurker but must have missed that. I had no intention of deceiving or being confusing. Also, that is the login information that was already in the “system”, as it were, when I went to leave a comment, so I thought that was what I was supposed to/it was ok to use. Again, apologies!

    [No worries -- Julie is The Happy Catholic but she posted here under her name, so that is the cause of the confusion. I am very glad to know that there are happy catholics! :-) -admin]

  • Suzanna

    The feminist critique is to be expected. I don’t have a problem with Hugo writing most likely for the men of his day. I’d say he closer to a feminist because most of the male characters are despicable.

    As for the immodesty critique. That makes me livid. Great way to miss the moral of the story.

    A film is more personal experience than a stage musical. Had Fantine not experiences utter humiliation, shame, and despair *right before our eyes*, it would have been easy to glamorize prostitution. Instead we watch it with utter revulsion, and then our hearts are ripped out during “I Dreamed a Dream”. I was holding back sobs. The film reminded me of the horrors that women go through in our own day and age (in AMERICA too).

    As for the Thenardiers, no one looks up to them. They should be shown for who they are. It’s a visual medium, folks!

  • Klaire

    Andrew I was very sad to read your comment, as I believe Mother Mary, the great teacher of faith, would be the first to disagree. The reality is our sexually obsessed culture has “distorted” the human body and sex to such a gutter mentality that when we do see the body used properly as God intended, it’s easy to make the mistake to lump into “dirty, bad”, when it fact, it’s actually “beautiful and holy.”

    FYI, I also read another Catholic writer earlier in the week who thought Les Mis should be “X rated”, so glad you wrote on this Elizabeth. I think it proves that we have a problem on “both ends” when it comes to purity and prudery, all the more reason the world needs JP II’s Theology of the Body.

  • http://www.breakpoint.org Gina

    This is an excellent post! I appreciate the thoughtful way in which you raised and handled these questions, and searched for a reasonable balance between the extremes.

  • NJ Gamer

    I saw the movie, and I do not believe either scene was over-the-top or pornographic. In fact, I believe the scene with Fantine is almost the opposite of pornographic. Pornography and prostitution objectify the “actors” and render them mere fantasies to use for one’s own pleasure. Many who indulge in them believe that it is harmless because no one is hurt. Everyone is engaging in those acts voluntarily.

    It could be argued that Fantine did, indeed, voluntarily become a prostitue. However, having lost her only means of support and thus the ability to pay for the care of her daughter as well as food and shelter for herself, she experiences a downward spiral. She first sells the only thing of value that she owns (the locket), then she sells her beautiful hair, and finally she sells the only thing left – herself.

    That scene is gutwrenching. It is not at all titillating. It shows the utter depravity of the situation and the horror of that sin. It brings that sin home to each of the viewers because of its graphic nature.

    I believe that it is important to make us uncomfortable because each of us could have been one of the holier-than-thou co-workers that forced Fantine into her descent. She would not have needed to resort to prostitution if she had retained her job.


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