Saturday, January 26, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables

You are not supposed to be against classics.  It just means you are a jerk if you say what everyone is thinking about Les Miserables (Les Mis from now on).  But I don't mind being a jerk.  That movie was just plain awful.

Look, I knew it was a musical.  Fine.  I have seen many a musical.  West Side Story for instance.  People randomly burst into song.  It is what it is.  However, in Les Mis no one talks.  Every other musical I have ever seen (like Grease) people speak and then sing and speak again.  No, not in Les Mis.  Only song.  I guess I can chalk that up to taste, but if you are going to make a movie where there is only singing, get good singers.  Forgo the big name actors and focus on people who drive home your song.  No offense to the guy from "A Beautiful Mind" but he can't sing.  While everyone else in the theater was crying, I was rooting for Jean Valjean to die so he would stop singing.  I had had enough.  I know, I am heartless.

But there is more, and it gets worse.

Everyone raves about the Christian message of Les Mis.  And there are clearly some very beautiful moments of grace.  Of course the abbot purchasing Jean Valjean freeing him from going back to prison, Jean Valjean confessing they have the wrong man in front of a crucifix.  Yes, grace is clear and presented.  Of that there is no doubt.  But is it clearly a Protestant message?  I don't think so.  I still think this is a Roman Catholic message of grace and works.  Now, I confess I have not read the book in ages, so I am only speaking of the movie.  But the Valjean death scene where the dead are returning and conversing with him he sings a line about "did I do enough".  They comfort him with the assurance that he will see heaven.  And that is the problem.  Jean Valjean was trying to earn his salvation and on his dying day he still does not know if his good works were enough to out weigh his bad ones.  And the movie down plays his bad ones.  Jean Valjean did steal bread.  But it is portrayed as something the poor do because they have to do it.  This is not how God's law operates.  He stole.  He also ignores Fantine when she needs someone to aid her.  A sin he has to pay for.  He was too worried about himself.  In fact, he is worried about his lies unraveling.  Another sin.  

I could go on, but the point is that Jean Valjean is constantly asking himself what must he do, can he let someone else bear his punishment.  Can he let Javert go?  Can he save the boy?  Should he?  He makes the right choices, but not out of thankfulness for the salvation he has received, but in hopes of paying off his sin.  At least that is how I saw it.  Which led me to believe Javert had the appropriate response to a world where salvation was based on doing right.  Javert killed himself because he knew he could not pay of his debt, and he realized he had debt for the first time.

So I am not gaga over Les Mis.  Victor Hugo as a Roman Catholic, and I think it comes across in this movie.  Sure, it is a better message than "Brokeback Mountain", but that is not the same as being a movie about true redemption.  We do not earn anything.  In a movie culture that is starved for a message of grace and forgiveness, let us not accept a Romanist version of it.

Go and enjoy the movie if you like singing that much, but do not forget the shortcoming of Catholicism while you watch it.  


Anonymous said...

In fact, Hugo was hostile to the Roman Catholic Church.

Lee said...

He was very hostile toward the Roman Catholic church for its lack of compassion, and he was not quite orthodox, but he was still a member of the Roman church. And for the purpose of this article, he would have been familiar with the Roman theory of atonement, and not the Protestant one.

A. said...

I hated that movie as well, but I love the book and in my opinion the beautiful story has not been shown at all in this movie. Pure hollywood commercialism and I don't get why people are saying it was so beautiful and emotional!!! (Also I don't get why Anne H. has got an Oscar for her very short and not very outstanding performance- but that's a different topic) I love how the priest does not send Valjean back to prison, but forgives him and gives him love and acceptance instead of what he has expected. This is an example of how God treats us. Hugo has criticised society and hypocricy. No matter if this is a catholic view or not. I would not focus on that aspect. I do believe that there are Catholic priests who are truely Christian. Like in any other Christian denomination.