Oscar® Winner for Best Actress in a supporting role, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing
Nominee for: Best Picture, Best Actor in a leading role, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
Les Miserables “Les Misérables,” “Los Miserables,” “Os Miseráveis,” “A nyomorultak,” “Bidnici,” “Jadnici,” “Oi athlioi,” “Vargdieniai”
Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
Music Epic Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 32 min.
Year of Release:
December 25, 2012
DVD: March 22, 2013
orphans in the Bible
hunger / starvation
falling in love
girl disguised as boy
brothel / prostitutes
If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer
ghosts in the Bible
“Fight. Dream. Hope. Love.”
Before seeing “Les Miserables,” it is important to understand the background, for a film cannot, and does not, provide much of the underlying roots to Victor Hugo’s classic novel that are necessary to understanding it in a true light. I will therefore ask the reader’s indulgence briefly.
Revisionist historians want to sugar coat the French Revolution while denigrating the puritan roots of our own nation, but the French Revolution failed. It ended in the “Reign of Terror,” anarchy, and the dictatorship of Napoleon. After Napoleon fell at Waterloo, the monarchy returned to France. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables takes place in this period, and culminates with the failed “July Revolution” of 1830. The reader should also be aware that Victor Hugo was a strong supporter of Napoleon III during the “Second French Republic,” and so many consider that Les Miserables exaggerates the plight of the poor under the old French monarchy. Now, with this mind, let us look at the film.
Somewhere along the line, Broadway musicals decided that great works of literature could be turned into great musicals. “Les Miserables” is one of the most successful of those stage plays. In turning it into a movie, the limited sets of the stage are replaced with the spectacle and grandeur of France in the 1800s. However, it is only the underbelly of France to which we are given a glimpse. Jean Valjean is the central character, who was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He is finally paroled and given a chance at a new life, but finds circumstances make it impossible for him to live, until a priest gives Valjean a chance. Valjean seizes the opportunity to make something of himself, but changes his name to escape the plague and restrictions of his parole. For this crime, he is hunted daily for almost twenty years by Javert, a police officer who considers his duty and honor one and the same, and refuses to look the other way, even when it conflicts with his conscience.
The story, as noted, takes place over a period of many years, and takes its finale from the failed “July Revolution.” I will not give away any spoilers, but the reader should be aware that this is a dark film. It is a film, like Hugo’s other stories, about the triumph of spirit over the darkness of the world, but it is also a film where God appears only in the shadows. Like the failed French Revolution, the world which Hugo depicts, is one in which God is not welcome. The redeeming figures in the film do pray to God, and it is priests and churchmen who often provide relief to Valjean when he needs it, but Javert is also seen praying, and asking for Valjean to be brought to justice. It seems that God is painted gray.
Artistically, the film is beautifully filmed and directed, and the acting is largely superb. I do, however, have problems with Sacha Baron Cohen’s depiction of Thénardier, the con artist and nemesis of Valjean. Anyone familiar with Cohen’s sense of humor knows that he relies on gross out humor and shock. He has taken that flair and invoked it Thénardier. To be sure, Thénardier is supposed to be a con and wretch, but the humor Cohen uses (for which the director can also be blamed) is over the top, and involves some very crude jokes which were not in the stage play, or book. This takes us to the film’s generous PG-13 rating.
We all know that the ratings system in Hollywood is messed up. It is for that very reason that sites like this one have grown. From a Christian perspective, this movie should clearly have been rated R. There are multiple sex scenes, one of which is very crude and played for “humor.” Additionally, there are some disgusting jokes and crude scenes which frankly cannot even be discussed here. One involves animal parts, and another involves human excrement. Next, there are several scenes where the characters utter cuss works which did not exist in the 1800s. Has Hollywood really become so debased they think that everyone talked like gutter rats of today? The words were not even invented back then. Finally, there is ample violence, particularly at the end of the film, when we literally see a pool of blood. Children are shot by the police, and dead bodies are strewn about. Some of this (particularly the violence) is an essential part of the story and film, but much of it is unnecessary and was not in the classic novel.
Finally, we come to the music, for this is a musical—as anyone familiar with “Les Miserables” knows. The songs are obviously classics. What not everyone may know is that the film is considered “revolutionary” in musical history because it uses a new technique for the actors” singing. They sing “live.” What does this mean? Simply put, traditional musicals record all the songs in studio and then have the actors lip-sink on set. The criticism of this is that it limits the acting of the stars. If an actor wishes to be melancholy, then he should not be singing as fast as a song might have been recorded. Now, for the first time, the actors sing “live” and the studio records the song later, to match their live singing. The result is obviously much better acting, for which the film has received praise, but it may hamper the music. This is, however, something I will leave for the music critics, for I found the songs as good as any sung by actors. Indeed, some were very good at singing.
My conclusion is that “Les Miserables” is a wonderful musical hampered by Hollywood’s excesses. Fans of the novel or musical will love the film, but others may be put off by the long run time and the dark nature of the story. Indeed, as a Christian, I recommend that the film be viewed as a look at the world of those who reject the Lord. It depicts the dark world which men make when God is scorned. Valjean finds a way out of this sewer by finding God. So can we all, through Jesus.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
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