By Grace Gardener
Okay, so I know I usually write reviews on this blog. The thing is, Les Misérables – both the book and the movie – are just so good I didn’t feel like writing an unbiased, objective treatise discussing both the good and bad things in them. They’re just too good, and the bad things aren’t really important. Here are some very good reasons to absolutely adore Les Misérables. Some of these are going to be about just the book or just the movie, others count for both of them.
Les Misérables is set in France in the second half of the nineteenth century. After the French Revolution, in which they bumped off the king, they got another one who wasn’t much better. The country is overrun by poverty. In the middle of all of this an ex-convict named Jean Valjean tries to find his way while avoiding the police after breaking his parole.
- It’s absolutely hilarious
I’m not kidding! Of course, you need to dig a little deeper to find the humour than in other books, but it’s there. From Marius’ great uncle refusing to believe the children born from his mistresses are his, to Marius never coming back to the Barricade Boys after he gets proven wrong in a discussion once, there’s a lot of funny situations in here. Marius’ entire love life is a comedy: one chapter is literally named “Marius gets some common sense and decides to contact Cosette.” In the movie, the funniness is a little less hard to find, although it’s still mostly on the actor’s faces and actions instead of in what they’re saying. A few examples are Javert being eternally confused by Valjean’s forgiveness and Enjolras being annoyed by everyone around him.
- The plot is a piece of art
My last review was about the book Holes, in which every single detail you learn is useful, even if you don’t see it at first. In Les Misérables, this is taken to a whole new level. Very minor characters randomly pop up later in the book, even when the author could just as well have made up some new person. I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t read someone’s commentary on the book. But not only in the small things is the plot great. You know that thing when an author seems to have written themselves into a corner and you have no idea how they’re going to get out of it? If they manage to get out of that corner in a decent way, you know you’ve got yourself a good author. Victor Hugo manages to do this a lot in Les Misérables. Characters’ stories come together in such a way that it seems completely normal, even when the amount of chance meetings seems above average for such a large country as France. The movie shows this beautifully in the song “One Day More,” in which all the main characters sing of their hopes for the future – which, in their case, is coming the next day. It’s wonderful to see how all the vastly different storylines come together and culminate at the barricade. Victor Hugo clearly comes from a time when books were supposed to be the best of the best: things you could put up on your mantlepiece and brag about having.
- The symbolism
I love symbolism; I am also bad at seeing symbolism. The Internet really has been a blessing in helping me enjoy my favourite books and movies more: I often find interesting facts and viewpoints on there that I never would have figured out for myself. The next interpretation, however, I thought of all by myself. You may congratulate me. Anyway. A very good example of the symbolism is the dynamic between the main character and the antagonist: Valjean and Javert. Javert is a personification of the Law the way you find it in the Bible. He even says it himself: “I am the Law and the Law is not mocked.” His motto is “Those that falter and those that fall shall pay the price,” which he ironically sings shortly after standing before a cross of Jesus. Javert believes firmly in justice, even when he is the one who has done wrong. He feels like forgiveness and mercy are a mockery of the Law and that one bad action brands a person for the rest of their life. Now, this is very biblical. But it leaves out one very important thing: God’s grace. This is where Valjean comes in. He agrees with Javert that everyone is a sinner and that justice is a good thing. But he remembers a very important event that changed all of history: Christ’s sacrifice. He prefers to forgive people and show them love, even if they did nothing to deserve it.
- The message of love and forgiveness
I already touched on this in the last part, so the forgiveness part kind of speaks for itself. Love is a very important part of the whole story. I think you can summarise the whole point of the movie with the line “To love another person is to see the face of God.” And there isn’t just one kind of love, either. At one point a boy kisses a girl on her forehead without there being any kind of romance (she’s dying, so that makes sense). There is romance, of course, but the kinds of love that I could count were: mercy, compassion, forgiveness, brotherhood, sacrifice, romance, friendship and caring. Characters – well, actually, one specific character – keep on sacrificing their own happiness and peace to help out others, even with the police breathing down their neck.
- The music
This one only counts for the movie, of course (I haven’t seen any of the theatre productions yet). I love how various melodies are repeated throughout the movie, to emphasize different themes. Almost the entire thing is sung, which is a lot to get used to, but after a while you stop noticing it. I, for one, am very impressed how whoever wrote the theater production the movie was based on managed to fit a lot of different lines into the same melody while also making it an interesting story and staying close to the book. I couldn’t even write one song without it sounding awful (I tried once).
- The attention to detail
Les Misérables is known for it’s “diversions”: rabbit trails. There are whole parts of the story that are devoted to describing an event or place that doesn’t really need to be described like that for the story to make sense. But like I said: books were supposed to be big things. And the nice thing is, a lot of modern translations skip the chapters that are unnecessary and stick them in the end of the book. That way, if you’re interested, you can learn so much from them! But even in the parts that are important, there is an immense amount of detail regarding customs, clothing, money and all that kind of thing. On the one hand, some of this is massively boring. On the other hand, it really made me appreciate all the hard work the author put into this book and it did make the story come alive in some ways.
So there you have it: a nice list of six perfectly valid reasons to watch something uplifting for a change. Just a word of warning: if you’re going to watch the movie, keep little siblings out of the room. This movie is at least PG-13 because of violence, blood, prostitution and all such other things (I don’t have enough WiFi to check, but that’s definitely the most lenient rating I’d give). Just to be clear: they are labeled “wrong” very strongly, but it’s still not really the thing to be showing little kids. Other than that, both the book and the movie are masterpieces that have Christian messages to boot.