I rarely go to see movies in the theater.
However, the much anticipated film adaptation of the musical "Les Miserables" officially arrived in theaters this week- and anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for musicals.
Generally, when a film I want to see is out I wait for the DVD and watch it in the comfort of my own home and with my own blanket and snacks and a firm grasp on the remote for 'scenes of a questionable nature' that I want to skip. This time however the pull of seeing a musical on the big screen in all its glory was too big of a draw and from the first of my hearing of it almost two years ago now I knew that I would be going to see it.
Last night I went and saw it. And I loved it.
This film will be known years from now as the benchmark for many things. The cinematography is remarkable and different than anything that has been done in generations. In fact, I think it will come to be the "Citizen Cain" of our generation. In many places the scope and surreality of the style reminded me of another favorite of mine, "Fiddler on the Roof". The director made bold choices in showing sweeping views with solitary figures and more strikingly in the strategy he took in using extreme closeups of the actors. At first I really didn't like this tactic, it feels too invasive and too personal, and too raw. You cannot help but to feel the same emotions as the characters are dealing with and it sends you on an emotional roller coaster right along with them.
Then I realized that is just the point.
Yes, the point is that you feel ground down, that you feel the dirt and the grime, it is even the point that you feel the disgusting nature of sin. But it is also the point that you feel the repentance, the love, the joy, and the ever stirring surge of hope.
Additionally, the benchmark that is laid down in the acting/singing department is tremendous. The acting is flat out superb! With the exception of Russel Crow whom I have an intense dislike for all the other players are great favorites of mine and played their roles with skill and grace. Anne Hathaway destroyed herself in her portrayal of Fantine and broke my heart too while she was at it! From her gut wrenching "I Dreamed a Dream" to her death I sat and cried my eyes out! Hugh Jackman is utterly convincing and equally moving through out his portrayal of Jean Valjean. He again brought me to tears as he wound down and brought the movie to a close.
But my love of this movie had as much to do with its grand themes as it did with is visual appeal and 'star power'.
This story's greatest asset is its themes of redemption, love, and mercy.
Earlier this week I ran into this article posted on Desiring God. I won't attempt to recreate the adeptly illustrated points the author makes in showing the reader how great a gift mercy is and how undeserving of it each one of us is, but I would encourage you to go read it for yourself. In the past I have seen the Liam Nisson version of the story and was left wondering and wanting with its portrayal of the story. I never got what the point was because I was to caught up in following the intricacies of the plot. The thing I discovered I've always been missing from this tale was the mercy. From the very beginning of the (2012) film and Valjean's conversion to his selfless acts throughout, to his quiet fade into glory this story screams from the rooftops of the power of God's redeeming one man and that man's demonstration of life changing mercy to all he encounters. After all, who better to show mercy than one who has received it and knows it power?
Some have objected to seeing this movie based on some of the stronger, adult themes portrayed in this movie. I can respect that and I understand that while those people will likely enjoy this movie as a whole that they have every right to sit at home (like I usually do) and wait for the ability to control what they view. Commitment to their principles are commendable.
However, I would like to ask what one expects to see in a movie called "The Miserables" and deals with the horrors of prostitution and the unthinkable repulsiveness of leaving one's child in the clutches of vulgar and crude people? Let's not look at this subject matter with rose colored glasses! If one is familiar with the story and with the musical score nothing portrayed in the film should shock you. It is all right there all along. In fact, while I like seeing those subjects portrayed as much as the next person, which is to say not much, I felt that they dealt with the hardest of them well. The one scene of a raucous and bawdy nature occurs in the "Master of the House" number, if one wishes not to see this type of behavior this number is best avoided. All in all none of the difficult scenes are done or shown in a gratuitous manner, with perhaps the exception being one brief flash of a couple in the Thenardier's inn that was just unnecessary.
One thing I would like to bring up as a counterpoint to the above is what drives Fantine to prostitution in the first place. When we meet Fantine she holds a respectable job earning her own respectable money and is in fact known by those around her for her virtue. What happens to her next however makes me seethe! After bemoaning the advances and groping that all the women in the factory have to put up with from the overseer in order to keep their jobs those same 'moral' self-righteous hypocrites turn on Fantine and have her thrown out when they discover she has a child and is an abandoned woman. They indeed have no mercy for her or her situation- how difficult it must be for a young woman to support a child on her own! You can view a clip of this here. What benefit does this brand of 'morailty' have to anyone? I sat there and couldn't help but think of some church people I've known- "pick a little, peck a little, talk talk talk, pick a little more"! It isn't any wonder what people sometimes think of Christians...?
Aside from the two previously mentioned scenes I felt that nothing seen or portrayed in the film is anything different than you would expect to see in a PG13 rated film. There is swearing, there is death and blood, there is evil men but such is the nature of both the fallen man and the plainly stated rating.
And I dare say that there are just as many bosoms to be seen in Jane Austen film as this- so don't take me to task over the 'liberal' view I'm taking here.
So what's the bottom line here? Should you go and 'hear the people sing'?
First, this movie is not for children. At least not in the theater. If you're going to go see it leave the kiddies at home and go for yourself. At home, where you can control what is seen, for even younger teens this movie should be fine.
Second, if you are a fan of period dramas, musicals, the Les Mis story, or the actors involved go see this movie! Go enjoy it and ride the emotional roller coaster and feel the despair and the soring joy of hope!
...And if you're lucky, the folks in your theater will sing along as the credits roll too!