Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Les Misérables

We're watching Les Misérables in my AP Euro class, which is a mixed blessing in many ways. In one regard, it is my favorite musical, and I adore having the chance to watch it. On the other hand, the movie is so disappointing I can hardly stand it.

I thought I’d talk about it, otherwise I’d brood about it during class. That could be unwise.


Source: Wikipedia
Rundown (as according to Heather and not necessarily the movie because they leave too much stuff out)

Jean Valjean leaves prison after serving a twenty year sentence under the harsh officer Javert, and attempts to make his way again in the world, but as a dangerous man receives little grace. A bishop allows him in on a cold night, offering a bed and bread, which Valjean accepts. Before the night is out, he steals the bishop's prized silver, but is caught. The bishop lets Valjean keep it—under the condition that he use it to become an honest man.

Valjean takes those words to heart over the next several years and becomes mayor of a town where he manages factory work. He endears himself to his neighbors with his willingness to get his hands dirty and concern for every soul in need. However, he fails to notice when his young employee Fantine is thrown on the streets because she is a single mother and antagonized by her fellow workers. On the streets she is forced to prostitution and chronic sickness. Valjean, realizing the injustice and poverty he has caused, takes her to a hospital, promising her that he will care for the daughter she's left in the care of an innkeeper. At the same time, he announces his true identity to save an innocent man who will be convicted for his crimes, narrowly evading his old rival, Javert. While on the run he rescues the child Cosette from the corrupt Thenardiers, and takes her away to raise her in a convent where they are able to get back on their feet.

Something like nine years later France is in political upheaval (again) as the June Days get underway. Enjolras, a political agitator, spreads unrest with his posse, including characters like Marius and Eponine and Gavroche Thenardier. While out and about Cosette, now a young lady, sees Marius out on the streets and falls in love with him, to Eponine's dismay. Javert is alerted to Jean Valjean's presence once more and pretty much the situation culminates as the barricades go up, Javert and Valjean go head to head, the Marius-Eponine-Cosette triangle faces its strain, and the Thenardiers attempt to wreak revenge on Valjean.

The June Days doesn't work out well for anyone, except for Cosette and Marius who decide to get married. Valjean, however, is unwilling to tarnish his daughter's good name by outing the fact that he is a criminal, so runs away to the convent. He gets to see Cosette one last time before he dies (he is pretty old at this point), and then everyone sings DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING? again and it's pretty intense.

Negative Thoughts

I have more of these to get out, so I will start with them.

Let me start with this: I love King Julian and Bellatrix Lestrange in their own right, but I have never seen a worse portrayal of the Thenardiers. They were plenty dirty, but the portrayal never really “got it.” The Thenardiers are the true villains of the story; they relish in the crimes they commit and they wallow in their destitution every day... and they hate it, too. That dimension is cut away in the film. They're there for dirty comic relief and to move the plot along, but in the sewers, we don't get Dog Eats the Dog. We don't get the utter emptiness of their lives, or the fact that in the end they are the greatest threat because of the lawlessness they are caught up in.

It makes me a little sad. Javert isn't and never has been the villain. Antagonist maybe, but the Thenardiers are something else. They embrace evil, and that is what sets them apart.

I am also not a fan of Eddie Redmayne on top of the Thenardiers. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables just didn't click with me.

My other main issue is with Lovely Ladies.

I understand why they did that scene the way they did it, but it was a disappointment to stage versions. Onstage, they're significantly more enthusiastic, and that makes sense, because that's how they get paid. They were significantly less enthusiastic in the film, and I felt that that prevented an important part of the culture Fantine was thrust into.

I love prostitute songs, because they have the most crap to sing about. They're in the business of pleasure, and they're miserable. They have to be raunchy, and then deal with it. I loved Anne Hathaway's rendition of I Dreamed a Dream but without the compliment of “public prostitute life” the “private prostitute life” seemed less deep. Part of that pain was gone, and it took away from Fantine’s brokenness.

That sounds really bad. But that's what I think.

On a lighter note:

Positive Thoughts

For the most part the movie was actually okay. I don't need to go into all the details but I have to admit that regardless of the feature the last scene, where Jean Valjean dies, is always my favorite. I love the redemption, the love, and the joy at being released. Valjean has lived his life, he's given mercy as it was given to him, and shown love to everyone as best he could.

Most of all, I love the lyrics they sing at the barricade again.

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-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes...
Tomorrow comes!

I don't know why, but it reminds me of Jesus coming back. Strength, joy, freedom, and everlasting peace. It's a powerful scene, and sometimes if it's late enough it'll get me going.

I think I'll have to talk about Javert some other time. He deserves a post of his own.

In conclusion I do love Les Mis. It is one of the greatest stories of grace and mercy I've ever had the privilege to watch on stage, in the movie theater, in my living room, listen to on Pandora, and anywhere else it's come up in my life.

The movie disappointed me, but all the same...

Somewhere beyond the barricade there's a world I long to see.

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