Musical theater purists are divided on the subject of Les Miserables. I am a more simple soul. I adore the musical in all its incarnations. Yes, it’s sentimental. Everybody dies, dramatically, on stage while singing their heart out. And can it be that in the 1800s France had only 100 inhabitants or so, the way the characters keep on running into each other? Nevertheless I enjoy staged productions thoroughly, and am delighted with the movie version, just out.
All these flaws have carried over from the stage production into the movie. But luckily all its strengths have come through as well. An emotional score, a snappy narrative that prunes out all the longeurs of the original novel, and a classic theme of redemption and salvation make this one sure fire. The movie also adds much grand scenery and sweeping vistas that could never be staged. (Somebody who knows about boats tell me, if what they were doing with that ship at the beginning of the film is even possible of achievement!)
But the most enduring appeal of the work is the theme. The idea that we can change –that we can become better than we are by an ongoing act of will — will never lose its appeal. The struggles of Jean Valjean, balanced between rigid moralism (represented by Javert) and lax criminality (embodied by the Thenardiers) is genuinely inspiring. If you don’t mist up at that final death scene you have a heart of stone. The movie is also heavy on the miseries of the poor of France, again something that could not easily be shown on stage. Crowds of ragged and grubby peasantry, packed into urban slums — very in tune with the zeitgeist, this attention to the unhappiness of the 47%,and it is to be hoped that ‘the leaders of the land’ can feell that pulse.
In short, if you enjoy the theater production you don’t want to miss this movie.
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