By Merita B.McCormack*/
It had been a while since I went to the movie theatre. I have been discouraged by many Hollywood movies that include violence, promiscuity, expensive ticket and snack prices, and the majority of them not really delivering a naturally ordered message. So I had given up on watching pop-culture movies.
But last night my outlook, at least for now, changed. As I recalled the story of Jean Valjean, which I had read and seen as a movie a few decades ago, I agreed to watch the new creation of “Les Miserables”, directed by Tom Hooper. I am not going to discuss movie-making techniques, such as set design. Instead, I will delve into the deeper messages embedded within the spiritual journey of Jean Valjean.
So thanks to Alicia Sutherland, my good friend and neighbor we went to the local theater to watch “Les Miserables”. I rarely review movies, as I am not qualified, but I felt compelled to write something about the message “Les Miserables” uses as its theme.
I found it great that the movie was released on Christmas Day since the movie is about grace and redemption. Grace permeates our souls when we are open to receiving it. Redemption is granted to all who seek the grace and pray for it. The characters are very much like each one of us, struggling with the issues of this world and the spiritual world. Jean Valjean’s past, no matter what circumstances, are conditioning his status in life. Labeled as a perpetual thief, many times he broke parole. The state and society’s punishment was that of captivity. Little did he know that the physical captivity was nothing compared to the slavery of his soul. This is slavery to sin and death until he meets the amazing Grace of God and is truly free.
The Bishop Myriel of Digne from whom Valjean stole valuable silverware, tells the police that he has given the treasure to Valjean. The Bishop’s appearance is that of “In persona Christi”.
Christ comes to us and dwells in us through the Sacraments and Prayer. The forgiveness and the Grace of God are readily available to anyone who seeks them and the clergy is there just to deliver that grace. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the fastest way to remove those walls we build and to soften our hardened hearts once we are truly sorry and fearing the Lord.
Having offended God in the past, after being forgiven, Valjean’s conversion of heart begins, but is truly a struggle. His kneeling and pacing up and down the Chapel, in front of the Crucifix, is an evidence of an interior struggle. His crying and agony is a reminder of our own struggles, yet Valjean triumphs once he offers the struggle and trouble up to the Lord. He unites his pain with that of Christ on the Cross. It is not easy, yet is not impossible. Valjean knows that he can now have a personal relationship with God who is a just, forgiving, loving and caring Father. The strong presence of the Christian symbols in every part of Valjean’s life from this point on, is very telling on how long and tough the battle is and how important it is to hold on to the Sacramental life and Prayer. Once Valjean recognizes who is his Lord, everything works out for him, whether it is personal prosperity or taking care of Cosette .
Cossete is the young abused girl, who was an illegitimate child of Fantine, the beautiful hardworking woman turned prostitute turned martyr. Cosette represents the innocent life, whose life and fate was left in Valjean’s hands. With God’s grace Valjean secures for her a good education at the Convent and as a child of God she gives back love and care for her “papa” who raised and loved her all these years. Cosette meets the love of her life, Marius, the young, devout and energetic revolutionary whose life again, was miraculously saved by Valjean, whose Christ like figure permeates the whole movie.
The Thernardiers, the couple who abuse Cossette and own a town “Inn”, have an opposite life to that of Cossete and Valjean. Their own children, though better characters then those of their parents, are one a run away boy and the other a girl wrapped in misguided feelings of jealousy and envy, which she considers love. They were both “educated” on the streets and killed in the barricades during the revolution. The couple claim to be Christians, yet their life is anything but Christ centered. They are thieves, envious, immoral and greed is their God.
The antagonist character, Javert, the representative of the law and state, (how fitting I thought!) played by Russell Crowe, is well presented and convincing. Javert, a Deist, believing in predestined paths, is a person who thinks he is doing everything right in the name of the Lord, is also a self – absorbed, self centered man. He “prays” outside of God’s house, is wrapped in envy and jealousy, he is vindictive and doesn’t believe in Grace and redemption though many times the opportunity is presented. The queen of intercessors, Our Lady, through the rosary beads is also made available to him, yet he rejects it all and thus commits the sin against the Holy Spirit by believing that he will never be forgiven for what he has done. He walks the fine line and eventually ends up committing suicide. The symbols are very well presented and while Jean Valjean is inside the Church, humbly kneeling in God’s presence, Javert, dressed in black, is outside and convinced that there is nothing new to be created.
Hugh Jackman does a superb job at acting and singing and although in this material world’s Globe and Oscar awards are important to many, if a true conversion like that of Valjean happened to him personally, I think he should care less if he wins Globe or Oscar. His character, I bet has converted many hearts.
Many have sung praises to Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I dreamt a dream”.
She seems to be a fine young lady and a good actress. All I can say about it is that the burden to play Fantine, and singing a well-known classic such as “I dreamt a dream”, I thought was too much for her. Her character, though shortly presented in the movie, along with the holy innocents and other martyrs, represent the communion of Saints and the prayer of Valjean in the end to Fantine is very much a testimony as to how important the prayer to those gone before us, is for our salvation.
Well done Tom Hooper and team and hope everyone sees this very good movie.
The author is the president of “VATRA DC” Chapter and a free-lance writer. This piece is written under the second title of the author and the “Dielli” newspaper doesn’t necessary endorse or disagree with the viewpoints of this article.