Movie Review: Les Miserables

By Diana Eales |

Miserable. Just miserable. That is exactly how to describe the film Les Miserables. In this movie adaptation of the classic Broadway musical, director Tom Hooper explored the raw characters of 1800s France. The way Hooper set the film is dark and grungy, dirty with the lifestyles of the lives onscreen. He had the actors sing live on camera instead of prerecording them, which added a depth to the film that is rarely found in this digital age. A tear-jerking plot of both empathy and moments laughter is mixed with a profound sense of patriotism and the commitment of great love, evidenced in the many lives that the musical follows.

The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he survives a 19-year imprisonment for stealing and attempted escape and decides to break parole to start a new life. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and the daughter she is separated from, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), come into the picture after Valjean later establishes himself as a successful factory owner. Fantine works hard to support her child, who is in the care of two dishonest yet lively innkeepers. Then, after saving Fantine from a future of prostitution, Valjean finds Cosette and cares for her as he promised her mother he would. Police Inspector Javert, Valjean’s former overseer, is in ruthless pursuit of him, causing Valjean to be aware of his safety at all times.

Toward the beginning of the film, Valjean is inspired by a kind bishop’s generosity and begins a journey toward understanding grace that lasts for the rest of the film. This is deeply moving when Valjean’s actions reflect the grace that he was once extended himself. He could be viewed as the savior of the film, as he rescues many from the depths they have entered—willfully or not. With his horrid past and successful present, Valjean is a success story ready to inspire others. His redemption is a process, expressed in internal conflict through emotionally-driven songs that can give hope to anyone who is enduring an unfavorable situation.

For anyone who did not connect with Valjean, maybe they could connect with Cosette, in love at first sight with a man who finds her and pursues her even when facing his own death. Or they could relate to the Inspector Javert, in a world of black, white and law, out to do his duty and make the world a fair place. Perhaps a relatable character could also be Fantine, who puts her own life aside for the life of her daughter, giving all she has and risking who she is to support someone she cares about. Even though the story is set centuries ago, the kinds of struggles of humanity have not ceased to exist in our present world.

I left the theater in tears, moved by the humanity portrayed on the screen through the sheer misery of what the characters endured. The themes of grace and redemption proved pervasive, reminding me of my humanity and the range of human experiences. “Les-Miz” is a rough but worthwhile movie; make sure you bring plenty of tissues.

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