My daughter and I watched Les Miz for the second time yesterday. If we could we would watch it at least once a week. We love the music, the story, and everything about this production. I have cried both times. This is one of those timeless stories that teaches, inspires and makes me want to be a better person, and of course, I wish I could sing.
I never read Les Miserable in school, and although I had listened to the soundtrack of the musical I really didn’t know what the story was about. I knew it had to do with a man stealing a loaf of bread and being pursued by a hardnosed policeman. I was completely surprised by the message I took away from the movie.
In the musical the two main characters are Jean Valjean and Javert. Valjean is the ex convict that spent 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread, and Javert is the hard nosed policeman that searches for him over the years. Each man tries to follow God as best as he can. Valjean’s faith comes from an encounter with a bishop. Like many ex convicts he finds it nearly impossible to find work or kindness out in the free world, and one night he ends up starving and cold in a monastery. For the first time he is welcomed, and cared for by the bishop. But it is difficult to change his ways, and while everyone sleeps Valjean steals all the silver from the church. He is caught and returned. Valjean told the policemen that the silver had been a gift. We all know that is not true, the reader, the crook, the police, and the priest, but the decision of the bishop is what changes the course of Jean ValJen’s life. The bishop says that the silver was indeed a gift, but that Jean Valjean left so fast he forgot the very best, the silver candlesticks. He bought ValJean’s life for God, with his silver and with his trust. Not only is the man free to go, he has money to start over. Most importantly, for perhaps the very first time someone has cared for him, sacrificed for him, and given him value.
We aren’t told much about Javert’s past in the movie. In one song, singing to Valjean, he says he was born in a prison from scum like you. Javert has risen above his past, and has dedicated his life to God and his rules. His most powerful song speaks to the stars, to order and law and to how those that don’t follow the order and law will fall as Lucifer fell. That song sends shivers down my spine.
Valjean makes a new life in a new town and becomes the mayor. As mayor, and as a now follower of God, Valjean encounters various opportunities to help others. During this time Javert continues to search for the escaped parolee. It seems that Javert can only see his own evil, as he was born in a prison. If he can purge the world of evil he will make up for his own birth, his own life of sin. He does not seem to believe in redemption, or in mercy for himself or for others. In his world no one is allowed to make mistakes, and that includes himself. When the opportunity to kill Javert comes Valjean chooses to not do so, and this act of kindness and mercy is the destruction of Javert. Not long after Valjean’s act of mercy Javert has another opportunity to arrest Valjean, and he is unable to do so. He feels the strange sentiment of mercy, tosses his gun into the water and then he has to face the fact that he failed. Instead of understanding mercy Javert only sees the law, the justice that he should render. Instead of the love of God he only sees anger, and in his failure Javert throws himself off a bridge and drowns.
To me Les Mis is the perfect representation of Christianity, of faith used well and used poorly. Through the faith of the bishop many lives were changed, that of Valjean, of Fantine, of Cosette and of Marius. Through the desire to serve the law many lives were hurt, and perhaps the one that suffered the most was Javert himself. Les Miz is about redemption, of mercy and of grace. Perhaps the bishop was the most important character, because of his one act many lives were changed, and yet I would guess that he never knew the impact he had. He only operated out of his faith and love, his desire to do what was right.
I went to a movie expecting to see a story of the French Revolution, and of abuses and the suffering of the poor. I mainly wanted to enjoy the great music and visual effects. What I did see was a movie that reflected the beauty and power of the Christian faith. If more people understood Christianity that way I think more people would follow Christ.
1 Cor 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.