It’s no accident that at the close of 2012, we have a number of films celebrating the power of the human spirit. Les Miserables and Lincoln are two such movies that show how far we can go as people. Many know the stories well. I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, but I’ve now seen the former, as a stage play three times, and now the movie. What can I say? It’s my favourite musical. I also read the book it’s based on, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, in junior high.
In Les Miserables, we have the story of a man, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. When he breaks parole, he is hunted by another. Along the way, he meets a woman who literally sells her soul in order to provide for her daughter. The hunted, the hunter, the woman, and the child; all their lives interwine. A young and wealthy idealist is also thrown into the mix, along with a bishop who forgives a thief. In the background, we have an extension of the French Revolution, where the poor and the downtrodden revolt against the sins of the wealthy and powerful . The film does an excellent job portraying the themes of love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and justice. Even with all the sadness, the human spirit rises above all the darkness.
It’s interesting that critics are so divided about this film. I can understand some of the criticism, but I find it incredibly picky. Yes, there was one close-up after another, some of the framing was repetitive, and the singing not consistently stellar, but it all worked brilliantly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in choosing to let the actors sing and framing them the way he did, the director, Tom Hooper, took the musical to a whole new level. We saw the raw emotion, we felt the pain. Though some of the original lyrics were played with, the memorable music was still there. And yes, there was a lot of CGI, but this was a musical, a magnificent period piece with loving attention to set, costume and makeup. Because of the way the movie was constructed, I heard the story and understood its complexity better than before.
As I watched Les Miserables, I was reminded of other human stands for justice in this past year. Occupy Wall Street has slowed since its beginnings. The Arab Spring has faltered in Egypt. Palestinians and Israelis clashed with no winners. In Syria, battles for what’s right are still going on. But the voices are still there, they may be subdued but they are still crying out for what’s fair in the world. And if we are to improve as people, we need to listen to their cries.
The song in Les Miserables that epitomizes this struggle for justice resonated long after the movie house had been cleared: “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men, it is the music of a people who will not be slaves again…”
My wish for 2013 is that we continue to hear one another’s voices. Those that cry are not crying in vain.