LES MISERABLES

MISERABLES-articleLarge-v3


Overall Impression
 – Classic tale, classic structure.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who is your main character? – Jean Valjean.

What is he trying to accomplish? –  Physical – Stay ahead of Inspector Javert and not go back to prison.  Emotional – Protect his adopted daughter Cosette.  Spiritual – Redeem himself and be a good man in God’s eyes.

Who’s trying to stop him? – Inspector Javert who has engaged in a twenty year pursuit of the parole violator Valjean.

What happens if he fails? – He will go to prison and Cosette will be left orphaned with no one to take care of her.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – Valjean is imprisoned for almost 20 years for the most minor of crimes.  When he’s released it is impossible for him to find work or even (mostly) compassion because of the yellow letter he must always present that announces that he’s a ‘dangerous’ man.  Fed up with being cast as a bad person and inspired by the kindness of a Bishop, Valjean tears up his probation letter and vanishes to assume a new identity.

Wanderer – Years laters, Valjean is now the respected Mayor of a town as well as owner of a successful factory.  Life is good until Javert is posted to the town and seemingly recognizes Valjean.  Embracing his new nobility, Valjean admits his identity rather than allow a wrongly arrested man to go to jail when the man is assumed to be the missing Valjean.  He attempts to elicit compassion from Javert so that he may go and rescue the orphaned Cosette whose mother, Fantine, he promised on her deathbed to look after.  Javert refuses to believe that a man can change his nature and won’t trust Valjean.  Valjean escapes, finds Cosette, and flees with her to Paris where he assumes yet another new identity.

Warrior – More time has passed and Cosette is now a young woman.  Her and Valjean’s anonymity are threatened when Javert arrives in Paris at the dawn of the Student’s Revolution.  When their identity is made known Valjean is ready to flee again, but Cosette has fallen in love with one of the student leaders, Marius.  Knowing that he cannot run forever and that he won’t be around indefinitely to take care of Cosette, Valjean decides leaves her at a nunnery and goes back to fight with the students in order to protect Marius.

Martyr – Valjean fights heroically with the students, even going so far as to save Javert who had been captured by them and sentenced to death.  With the students slaughtered, Valjean rescues the wounded Marius and escapes into the sewers of Paris.  He eventually reunites Marius with Cosette and, unaware that Javert has already taken his own life (poor fellow couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of someone changing their nature the way Valjean had), Valjean leaves Cosette with Marius and flees again.  He is ultimately found in his last moments by Cosette and Marius and dies content knowing that she is now married and will be taken care of, as well as comforted in the knowledge that he has indeed reformed himself and become a good man.

AND, IN THE END…

Yeah, it’s long.  Yeah, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe are singers but not SINGERS.  Yeah, Anne Hathaway opens her mouth wide enough to swallow the IMAX screen I saw the movie on.  Yeah, I’ve heard all the complaints leveled at the film and my response is “big deal.”  The film has a grandeur and scope and admirably didn’t mess around with a classic structure that has worked for hundreds of years and will continue to work for hundreds more.

The lesson to be learned from Les Miserables is commitment.  This is not a movie of half-measures.  The songs are shot UP CLOSE, and often in long, long takes so as not to  cut up the performance (a necessary choice considering that the songs were filmed as live performances and not lip syncing.)  The canvas is huge, the emotions palpable, the experience satisfying, and the structure rock-solid.

– Jeffrey Alan Schechter

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