Les Miserables is a great cinematic adaptation of the classic novel by Victor Hugo. And contrary to some, I think it was a good idea to allow true and very good actors (Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman) to also sing, even though such is not their greatest talent. It lent a greater authenticity and rawness to their roles and allowed their acting to fill out and give greater meaning to the words.
This may be one of the greatest displays, on screen, of the power of mercy and forgiveness that I have seen in some time. Very moving—very powerful. One small act of mercy, like a stone dropped in a pond, ripples out and touches the lives of so many others for the better.
The book and the movie are also, of course, a great meditation upon grace and law. Poor Inspector Javert can only understand the law, but not mercy. Mercy confounds him. It subverts his world. When grace and mercy are shown him, by the very one he has tried to crush with the law, he cannot open his heart to it. He can only see the requirements of the law, of an eye-for-an-eye. Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert represent two ways of responding to mercy. If we can humble ourselves, then a new life is possible. But if we harden our hearts in pride, we become offended by the very offer of mercy and grace. We feel slighted somehow. We are insulted. However, just like with Javert, to close ourselves to mercy and grace is to destroy ourselves.
The movie and the book are also great reminders of the power of the Christian narrative, which of course inspires and permeates the entire story. The story makes no sense whatsoever, if we removed or changed the Christian elements and sources.
The power of narrative. This is why we have nothing to fear from the counter-narrative of naturalism. It could never, and never has, produced anything that could move us like a story such as Les Miserables. And it never will. It hasn’t the resources. It hasn’t any of the compelling power. It rather tells a story that is completely opposite. A story where mercy and grace are turned into contractual exchanges–where no true gift is possible. A story where law is everything and the only thing that can be “true.” After all, there is only evidence for “law” or “laws of nature.” You can’t see mercy or grace on radar. Justice, grace, and mercy have to be believed and imagined. And they can only be imagined because somewhere, somehow, in the memory of us all there lies an echo of an event, where mercy and grace were shown and displayed. But like with Jean Valjean and Javert, mercy (or the cross) will either offend or heal us, depending upon our response.
Les Miserablesstrikes us so powerfully because it is true or we know it should be true—even when the world doesn’t appear to have much mercy or grace. We know the world “ought” to be a certain way even when it seems it just “is.” Even when the world seems to be only law, we desire and admire the response of Jean Valjean and not Javert’s. That is why one narrative is true and the other false.