• Les Miserables – A Skeptical Review

    You would have to be a cultural hermit not to realise that the film production of the famous Victor Hugo book and resulting musical has recently hit our cinema screens to largely rapturous welcome.

    Largely. Not exclusively.

    So, a review:

    Singing: Great

    Production values / sets etc: Brilliant

    Acting: Briliiant

    Emotional heartstring-pulling: Sob

    Yada yada. It’s a ride full of ups and downs and it is, for most intents and purposes, a really good film.


    And that is a massive skeptical but (I like big buts..). Every review in the Uk which I have listened to or read fails to mention, even in passing, the central, incredibly blatantly obvious, theme which runs through the film like a heard of stampeding buffalo. That being religion, and more accurately, salvation through the Christian God. We have themes of religious interpretation (justice and law-like regulation defined biblically vs mercy through second chances and forgiveness).

    I will painstakingly go through the story like this:

    Bloke 1 (Hugh Jackman) in prison for stealing bread, ends up incarcerated for 20 years. Bloke 2 (Russell Crowe) releases him, giving him his papers. Bloke 1 is taken in by a church priesty bloke. Bloke 1 steals church silver and runs away. He is caught and returned to priesty bloke. Policey blokes want him locked up, priesty bloke says he let him have it all, and gave him another 2 candelsticks as well. Bloke 1 realises priesty bloke has shown mercy through God, decides to change his life, dedicating it to being a decent chap in the name of God, though throws his papers away, runs off and reinvents himself.


    God is forgiveness. God is hope. God is good deeds.


    Fastforward X years and less facial hair, bloke 1 is mayor of a town. Bloke 2 becomes police chief and recognises him. Papers check out just fine. Bloke 1 has lass 1 (Ann Hathaway) working for him in his factory. She gets sacked by his foreman bloke. She goes from pure decent lass to dirty, pulled out teeth, hair cut off, prostitute lass. She has been trying to send money to her child looked after somewhere else. Bloke 1 comes across her being beaten, helps her. She ends up in hospital dying. Bloke 1 on her death bed can’t believe what he has let happen. Zoiks! She dies but tells him of her child. Bloke 2 arrives and definitely knows this bloke 1 is the missing parole papers man. Bloke 1 runs off again to lass 2, lass 1’s daughter, being looked after by pub landlady lass (Helena Bonham-Carter) and pub landlord bloke (Sacha Baron-Cohen). Takes young lass 2 as his own daughter.


    Possible inference that secular pub type people have much less morality as they cavort around the pub nicking stuff off people in comedy uplifting section. Not being defined by divine morality, they are the pits, popping up randomly throughout the rest of the film for comedy effect.


    Bloke 1 runs off with lass 2 chased by bloke 2 again. Finds shelter in church. Again.


    God = good. Again. Shelters those in need etc etc. Bloke 2 is actually following this guy out of divine duty, just a wildly different interpretation of God’s word to bloke 1 and priesty bloke.


    Bloke 1 pisses off to Paris where lass 2 grows up into a fine young woman. Lass 2 falls in love in 5 seconds flat with some rich lefty-socialist bloke (son of aristocrat, Eddi Redmayne). Rich lefty-socialist bloke is involved with the second thrust of the French Revolution and has lots of lefty-socialist mates, from middle-class intellects (as he is) to street kids to poor people. Vive La France and all that. However, it appears that these lefty-socialist blokes sing rather a lot about God.


    Eh? WTF? Enlightenment ideals are supposed to have influenced the French Revolution to the tune of movement towards separating church and state. What the biblical madness are these lefties doing cavorting around singing about God? This is ridiculous! There also seems to be religious iconography on every wall. Crosstastic.


    Bloke 2 is somehow the head of the army-police blokes. He gets around. He notices bloke 1 again and chases him. “Why, if it wasn’t for those pesky baguettes, I would’ve had him!” So rich lefty-socialist bloke and lass 2 fall in love and there is some kind of revolutionary battle involving lots of furniture in the street and guns. And singing. bloke 1 and 2 get involved, and all the lefty-socialist blokes get killed apart form rich lefty-socialist bloke. Bloke 2 fails again to apprehend bloke 1 and, in the process, bloke 1 shows mercy and allows bloke 2 to run off without being executed by lefties. Bloke 2 commits suicide since he can’t compute.


    God, mercy, goodness yada yada. But then bloke 2 shows that a legalistic approach, through absolute morality and judgement, to morality is defied and contradicted by this equally divine sounding approach to morality rooted in forgiveness, which leads to salvation upon judgement, through God.


    Rich lefty-socialist bloke survives wounding, being saved by bloke 1 (more salvation). Rich-lefty socialist bloke marries lass 2. In a fricking mansion full of rich people.


    EH? I mean, really, WHAT? This is getting stupid! Where are the socialist ideals? What is this film about? He runs back to rich family and gets married at an ostentatious wedding scant weeks after all of his mates died in a revolution about social equality and justice. This amounts to thematic absurdity.


    Rich lefty-socialist bloke and lass 2 run off randomly from wedding to find bloke 1, who had crawled off like an elephant, to die in secret, at a church. Loads of singing about salvation and God again. He dies and goes straight to heaven, escorted by an angelic lass 1 who has reappeared out of the ether. The film ends as everyone in the film appears to be standing on top of a randomly assorted furniture barricade in the middle of Paris, waving flags at no one. All seem to be there apart from bloke 2, it appears.


    Shit me. What? So now the film degenerates into Christian propaganda. God=mercy=salvation=good deeds=church=God=crosses on walls=singing about God=flag waving. The themes are so insanely out of context and mismarried as to give me a minor coronary in the cinema. Heaven seems to be a place where you can stand up in adversary, and community in flag-waving pride, to no one, since heaven will have no social injustice and baddies. All the lefties are happy God-fearing, singing heavenites.

    Now, to me, left-wing revolutions with Enlightenment ideals and aspects of freedom of religion don’t generally have their proponents sing the praises of religion. However, this film, and probably the book and musical (I don’t know), seemed to be a thinly-veiled hurrah! to the realm of religion. In fact, it appeared that the whole reality of pain, suffering, torment and struggle was all justified by the prospect of a flag-waving sing-a-long in a rather bizarre heaven. This appears to be the antithesis of what the revolution ACTUALLY stood for.

    I loved so much of the film, but felt let down by the rather obvious bludgeneoning around my frontal cortex with a musical bible. The film was actively marketed to huge effect and success to the Christian audiences in the US. How come our critics over here seem to ignore the film’s most obvious theme?

    Well, the answer to that is that religion is simply not on the radar of 99.9% of the UK population. My partner watched the film the night before with her daughter and came to watch it with me the next night. She didn’t notice ANY religious symbolism the first time. It did not even register. The God-radar is simply not turned on. But to someone like me, a moany lefty heatheny type, I felt like I was being indoctrinated. This is why our critics haven’t mentioned it – religion is so absent from the social psyche in the UK that they don’t even recognise religion when it hits them round the face like a large, wet, Monty Pythonesque halibut.

    Film – 9/10 for everything else.

    1/10 for themes.

    Overall score – a skeptical 5/10

    [EDIT – some lyrics from the final song:

    Alone, I wait in the shadows
    I count the hours
    ‘Till I can sleep
    I dreamed a dream
    Cosette stood by
    It made her weep
    To know I die
    Alone, at the end of the day
    Upon this wedding night I pray
    Take these children, my lord
    To thy embrace
    And show them grace.
    God up high,
    Hear my prayer
    Take me now
    To thy care
    Where you are
    Let me be
    Take me now
    Take me there
    Bring me home
    Bring me home

    Monsieur I bless your name

    I am ready Fantine!

    Monsieur, lay down your burden

    At the end of my days

    You’ve raised my child with love

    She’s the best of my life

    And you shall be with God

    Papa, papa, I do not understand
    Are you all right?
    They said you’d gone away

    Cosette, my child
    Thank god, thank god
    I’ve lived to see this day

    It’s you who must forgive a thoughtless fool
    It’s you who must forgive a thankless man
    It’s thanks to you that I am living
    Again I lay down my life at your feet
    Cosette, your father is a saint
    When they wounded me
    He took me from the barricade
    Carried like a babe
    And brought me home
    To you

    now you are here
    Again beside me
    now I can die in peace
    for now my life is blessed…

    You will live, Papa, you’re going to live
    It’s too soon, too soon to say goodbye!

    Yes, Cosette, forbid me now to die
    I’ll obey
    I will try.
    On this page
    I write my last confession
    read it well
    when I, at last, am sleeping

    It’s a story
    Of one who turned from hating,
    A man who only learned to love
    When you were in his keeping.

    Come with me
    Where chains will never bind you
    All your grief
    At last, at last behind you
    Lord in Heaven
    Look down on him in mercy.

    forgive me all my trespasses
    And take me to your glory.

    Take my hand
    And lead me to salvation
    Take my love
    For love is everlasting
    And remember
    The truth that once was spoken
    To love another person
    Is to see the face of God.

    do you hear the people sing
    Lost in the valley of the night?
    It is the music of a people
    who are climbing to the light.

    For the wretched of the earth
    there is a flame that never dies.
    Even the darkest night will end
    and the sun will rise.

    They will live again in freedom
    in the garden of the Lord.
    They will walk behind the ploughshare;
    they will put away the sword.
    The chain will be broken
    and all men will have their reward.

    Will you join in our crusade?
    Who will be strong and stand with me?
    Somewhere beyond the barricade
    is there a world you long to see?
    Do you hear the people sing?
    Say, do you hear the distant drums?
    It is the future that they bring
    when tomorrow comes!

    Will you join in our crusade?
    Who will be strong and stand with me?
    Somewhere beyond the barricade
    is there a world you long to see?
    Do you hear the people sing?
    Say, do you hear the distant drums?
    It is the future that they bring
    when tomorrow comes…
    Tomorrow comes!

    Er, a lot of God talk.]

    Category: Book / Film Review


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce