… Having seen Les Misérables no less than three times I am now ready to write a little something about the movie. Not a review, more like personal reflections, since the movie is a personal experience. First experiencing Les Miserables on Broadway as a little girl poor Éponine broke my heart and Javert terrified me. In the raging teenage years of my youth I felt every pang of unrequited love Éponine had for Marius. I disliked Cosette out of jealousy. The adult Cosette, even now, leaves me with feelings of indifference towards her. The little Cosette, the verbally abused one sweeping floors… her I liked. I used to pretend I was her and flail about melodramatically when my mom asked me to do chores. I would sulk and pout and sing Castle on a Cloud. Sometimes I was even Gavroche, poor neglected and practically feral. I was not an easy child to raise.
At various times in my life I mentally played the revolutionary, Enjolras. Mostly during those rebellious days in college. As an adult I often imagined myself Valjean, hiding from a secret past; singing Who Am I and inwardly asking myself that very question. As a mother Fantine touched me with her desire to care for her child at all costs and her aching at the youth she wasted for girlish love rang all too true.
But Javert, no, I never played the part of Javert. Evil Javert, always lurky in a dark alley Javert. Cold and calculating Javert who only saw justice, never mercy. In my punk rock days the Javerts were the ones we viewed with contempt. Javerts were the legal and government systems that kept the downtrodden mercilessly under their boot heel. We rebelled against the Javerts.
Listening to the soundtrack over the years, I had mentally tuned Javert’s part out. He was just so doggedly exhausting in his chase to capture the righteous man… blah blah blah the law blah blah blah justice. The Confrontation was one such song I would typically skip over. Sitting in the theater didn’t afford me that luxury, as a result I heard the song, really heard it for the first time. Suddenly I was reconsidering Javert.
Men like me can never change
Men like you can never change
You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter too!
I wasn’t born inside a jail but I was born into a social circumstance that wasn’t considered the norm as it is today. My parents were divorced in the seventies, shortly after I was born. Sadly, today that’s no big deal but almost 40 years ago it was not as prevalent which made me very self conscious. My mother and I struggled financially too. While other kids played sports and participated in extracurricular activities I had various jobs after school. In high school the popular kids used to come into the fast food restaurants were the under-privileged kids worked to buy the things the privileged took for granted just to mock us and make our lives a little more miserable.
It’s really hard to get past all that no matter how successful you grow up to be. You always feel a bit like an outsider who has try extra harder than normal to prove to people you’re not poor white trash. But the real challenge, when the Javerts of the world finally make it out the gutter, is to not hold the people who didn’t in contempt.
Javert sang of God but I doubt he ever knew God. Because if he did he would not have been so boastful of how far he came along in life. Javert needed to credit his success to God, not his own doing. This pride manifested itself in a false sense of righteous justice that was completely devoid of any mercy.
Javert loathed Valjean for being a criminal as much as he loathed him for being poor. For having to resort to thievery to feed his family instead of working hard like Javert did himself. Surely, if Javert could overcome his situation with a little hard work and perseverance than any one can. If people like Valjean are poor it’s because they want or deserve their poverty.
And that was the moment I realized I was Javert. Soured in my adulthood. Uppity, smug Javert who looked down on people who didn’t pull themselves up by their boot straps and set about to better their situation. I and Javert both credited ourselves on our own resourcefulness and never once stopped to consider God’s role in our fate. God’s divine intervention. God’s mercy. Without recognizing God’s mercy in my own lives we were both unable to extend it to others. This flaw led Javert to his suicide. I just pray I can remind myself of this flaw enough to over come it.
Anyway, that’s all. I suck at being merciful and I sincerely hope there’s never a day when I find myself identifying with the Thénardiers.