Friday, January 11, 2013

Lessons From Les Miserables: Tearjerker Teaches About Grace And The Law

Official movie poster
 By Evangeline Han
Reporter
MELAKA, Malaysia – Before going to watch Les Misérables, I logged into Wikipedia to read the movie’s plot. My Facebook friends had been posting about the movie and some even mentioned the touching aspect of it.
After reading the plot, I was bewildered. How could they cry while watching the movie when two of the main characters had their happy ending because of their marriage? After all, how touching could battle scenes be? Little did I know!
Les Misérables   starts with prisoners working on ropes to pull in a large ship in the downpour. As they file back to prison after completing their job, the prison guard, Javert, played by Russell Crowe, stops one man, Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, and tells him that he is released on parole after serving his sentence for stealing bread.
The catch is that his parole is for life, which basically means that he is a condemned man for life. After gaining his freedom, he finds himself without a place to sleep, as no one wants to have anything to do with a man serving parole.
After being chased away from doorsteps multiple times, he finally comes across the Bishop of Digne, played by Colm Wilkinson, who offers some hospitality. Jean repays him by stealing his silver at night. When the authorities catch him, the bishop defends him by saying that the silver was given as a gift. Touched by the bishop’s act, Jean decides to change and become a better man.
Eight years later, Jean is the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner. No one knows his past and Javert is still hunting for him because he disappeared while on parole. Through a series of events, one of his workers, Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, is fired after an altercation and resorts to prostitution to earn money for her daughter.
After her encounter with her first customer, Fantine sings the song, “I Dreamed A Dream.”
It was impossible not to cry as she sang about the pain of dreams dead and long gone. After her death, Jean finds Fantine’s daughter and takes her in as his daughter.
Nine years pass and France is on the brink of revolution. Javert is still hunting Jean so Jean has to constantly be on the lookout.
While on a walk with Jean, Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried, catches the eye of Marius Pontmercy, played by Eddie Redmayne,  and they fall in love. That same day, General Lamarque, a sympathizer to the poor, dies and a group of students, including Marius, plan a revolt.
The revolution doesn’t go as planned. The town people chickened out and the students were left fighting to their death. Marius was the sole survivor and he only lived because Jean saved his life, leading to the emotionally charged scene when Marius expresses his anguish by singing the song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Just seeing the row of bodies and the river of blood in the street made me tear up.
Marius and Cosette marry and Jean dies, but not before revealing his past to Marius and giving his last written confession to Cosette, instructing her to read it after his death. The closing scene shows Jean being led by Fantine into paradise, joining all those who died in the revolution and they sing a closing song about a fight for freedom.
Les Misérables  is a tearjerker, but a good one. The story was mesmerizing and since Les Misérables is a musical, nearly everything was sung, which meant that raw emotions were conveyed even more clearly. History is one of my favorite subjects and I was able to appreciate the movie more because of its recounting of history.
Two lessons stood out for me. The first was the lesson about grace and the law. Javert represented the law. He was a legalistic man who was hell-bent on capturing Jean. The bishop, on the other hand, represented grace. He forgave Jean and even gave him the more valuable silver – two candlesticks – while advising him to use the silver for good.
The second lesson was the fighters who died for a cause they were passionate about. It is so easy to take freedom for granted without remembering the cost our forefathers paid for the liberty we have today.
One of the very sad parts in the movie for me was the part when the students realized no one else was going to join them in their fight against the approaching army. It is convenient to talk about the wrongs of our government, but when it comes to action, few take the risk.
From beginning till the end, Les Misérables captivated my attention. The songs were beautiful and the story meaningful. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, what are you waiting for?

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