Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Les Misérables

When I was 10 we went to the UK and while in London we went to 3 stage shows. Two fade into insignificance in my mind, but one stood out – Les Misérables. I sat transfixed, on the edge of my seat for the entire 2 hours. When it was finished I was unable to speak, being so overwhelmed with the wonder of what I had just seen. My young mind did not grasp it all especially the more adult themes, but I knew it was a story of great power and about a man whose life was changed by a demonstration of the love of God.

Every time since that I have been in the same city as a stage production of Les Misérables, I have gone. So, I have seen it at least 4 times, and could sing every word of the soundtrack to you by heart.

So it was with excitement yet trepidation that we headed out to see the movie. Would it live up to expectation? Could it possibly be as good as I remembered (I had not seen it live for at least 10 years)? Could all the actors really sing?

Thankfully, the answer was ‘yes’. It was a fantastic rendition. In fact, because of what film can do – clearly tell the story, illustrate in more depth, show faces in much closer detail – it was better. The cast was excellent, their singing mostly superb and the film itself was visually fantastic. I understood the story much more clearly than from the stage production and it filled in details I had not previously grasped. 

I think having seen and recognised the value of the story of Les Mis at such a young age, it actually has left me permanently disappointed with most musicals ever since. In my experience, the majority of musicals have a silly story line. The music is good, granted, but the story is only held together by the music.

In contrast Les Mis is at its core a great story. It is the story of a man’s redemption when shown grace, and his decision to honour God as he tries to face the consequences of his past. At the same time, the music is wonderful. The songs make the show. It is a great gift to be able to write a stirring music score, with realistic words which themselves unfold the story and mostly to do so in rhyme.

As we sat in the theatre I was struck by how many truths of the gospel were being sung to so many unbelievers. It could be a great movie for starting gospel conversations. Where else at the movies do you hear about redemption, grace, the goodness of God and payment for sin? For so many who never hear these things spoken of, Les Mis could be a great place to begin.

However, pick your audience. I saw the stage production at the age of 10, but there is no way I would take my 10 year old to this movie. It is just too adult – the poverty, the filth, the prostitution and despair of the lower classes, let alone the revolution battle. They will have to wait for some time to see this one. Maybe the show will be on stage again sooner!

If it’s not clear yet though - we loved it. If you haven’t seen it - do.


Rachael said...

Hi Wendy. I also loved the movie but wasn't as wrapped with the singing. I would like to see the story done with same cast, costume, setting etc but without the song. That would take a very clever someone to read the book again and write some worthy dialogue.

I also loved the contrast between law and love. I particularly like the image of walking on the edge... always about to fall. But there is one disturbing question right at the end when Jean Valjean (spelling?) asks a question something like "Was it enough?" or "Am I forgiven?". It seems that while he has understood love and mercy in contrast to duty and law but that he still doesn't understand grace. That is that he wants to know if his works of mercy are satisfactory enough to gain God's approval and forgiveness. He had no assurance.

What do you think? Am I reading too much into this question?

Did he really understand grace?

Marina said...

I agree completely, Wendy. I saw the Australian version and knew that recording (yes, records) off by heart! This was amazing - but surprised me at the depth of the adult themes. Perhaps I missed them as an early teenager, but I think they come through so much more clearly in the movie.
So worth seeing!

Wendy said...

Hi Rachael,

I have been thinking about this for a bit and in the end I don’t know if Valjean really understood grace. I cannot find the part you mean, not in my recording of the music, it does ring some vague bell that he does ask “Have I done enough?”, I can’t remember where it is though. I cannot answer if you are reading too much into it, although to venture a guess, I might suggest ‘maybe’. I am so astonished that anything talking openly about the love and salvation of God has made it to mainstream cinema, that it is delightful to have the ideas even in circulation. I have not read the book (hopefully a project for this year), so if you have read the book, you will know better than me.

These are some of the lyrics that I did note:
Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief
At last, at last behind you.
Lord in Heaven
Look down on him in mercy.

Forgive me all my trespasses
And take me to your glory.

[Valjean, Fantine & Eponine]
Take my hand
And lead me to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting.
And remember
The truth that once was spoken
To love another person
Is to see the face of God!

If anything, the emphasis here was on God working through the love of others, rather than through the work of Christ. They were the words that really left me wondering at his grasp of the gospel, rather than a call to love others.

However, I do love the ending lyrics:
Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the plough shed, they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

What do you think?


Wendy said...

I agree Marina - you could tell I loved it too!