LES MISERABLES: Exposition of Christian Virtues at Its Core
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by Oliver Oliveros
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
- Colm Wilkinson's Bishop Myriel of Digne and Anne Hathaway's Fantine, together with Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean, sung those arguably the most indelible lyrics by tail end in the Tom Hooper-helmed musical motion picture, "Les Miserables," a faithful film adaptation based on the 1987 Tony Award-winning musical, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer, which in turn was inspired by the French historical novel of the same name, published in 1862, by Victor Hugo, a well-known French Romantic poet and novelist who had evident antipathy toward the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church; but, interestingly, had high regard for the Church's doctrines.
Hooper's non-intrusive camerawork, which amounts to grandiose wide shots, especially during the sweeping melodic instrumental music played prior to or in between the sung parts, and medium close up shots, mostly one long takes filmed at least two minutes to capture the emotions of show-stopping solo numbers such as Valjean's "Soliloquy," Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream," and Marius' (Eddie Redmayne) "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," aided the telling of the story, which at the core of it was the frequent exposition of Christian virtues of faith, hope, charity, mercy, and forgiveness.
Valjean, once imprisoned for 19 years at the infamous Bagne of Toulon in France for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, broke parole - previously given by parole officer Javert (Russell Crowe) - to start a new life after a merciful bishop, from whom Valjean stole precious silverware, lied before several policemen to save the ex-convict from another arrest. The bishop subsequently told Valjean to use those silverware to live a life of an honest man, which the latter took to heart.
Nearly a decade later, Valjean had assumed a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, an appoinTed Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner, whose former factory worker Fantine fell into the trap of prostitution in order to pay debt to the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter), corrupt inn keepers who had Fantine's illegitimate child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), left in their care.
With complete sympathy for the almost dying Fantine, Valjean pulled out all the stops to recover Cosette from the cunning, scheming Thenardiers, and to see Cosette grow into a fine young lady (Amanda Seyfried); while Javert continued his obsessive quest to bring Valjean back to prison.
More than 60 million people around the world have seen at least one production of the stage musical, produced by British theater impresario Cameron Mackintosh, that could translate to a captured audience that would buy a movie ticket and check out Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway, Cohen, Carter et. al's highly publicized live singing (by the way, Crowe lacks the vocal chops and wears a poker face to be taken seriously as the antagonist Javert) and these A-list actors' take on Hugo's well-drawn characters; or would probably revisit the musical's most endearing show tunes, "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" among others.
Jackman and Hathaway's Golden Globe-worthy nominated performances would pull the viewers' heartstrings. However, integral to those emotionally-charged performances, including Redmayne and Samantha Barks' (Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers), were, again, more Christian themes such as love in various forms (spiritual, maternal, and paternal, among others), morality, and salvation that would touch even the non-believers, no less; but would much more resonate among the religious individuals in the audience.
On the surface, "Les Miserables" can move one to tears because of its characters' intertwined melodramatic destinies, poignant songs with ear-shattering crescendos, and bittersweet denouement.
On a deeper level, the film can also be deemed a Christian movie in disguise, which may come off as too preachy and tacky to some.
Photos by The Telegraph, BWW Newsdesk