A Review of Les Miserables as a Picture of Redemption From Abuse
NOTE: One of our readers submitted this review after being powerfully affected by Les Miserables, 2012. Thank you Anon!
Just in case you don’t know, Victor Hugo wrote this story, because he was an oppressed and rebellious Catholic, who was sick of the oppression of the Church. So fitting today. We may or may not be Catholic, but we are all or have been oppressed and we are sick of it. Perhaps Mr. Hugo would stand with us today, if he were here, to say to the Church of today – enough is enough!
Les Miserables – the Movie
I was so moved with compassion, that I could hardly keep the tears from flowing. My cheeks were wet, my eyes were blurry and the theatre was completely silent. I watched as “Jean Valjean” was changed by God’s redemption, given to him while he was a wretched thief. He had been sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He served 19 miserable years, but at the end of those years, his physical strength was unbeatable. He moves out of the prison and quickly returns to stealing, because, like me in repeating the mistake of choosing abusers, it is all he knows. He lands, in the cold dark night on the doorstep of the bishop’s home. He is offered food and warmth and a bed, but ends up stealing the silver. He is caught and brought back to the haven he had been given. I watched as the bishop showed him mercy and grace and it changed Jean’s heart, to see that God was loving and caring and merciful. A far cry from anything I have been shown by those who call themselves the “priests” today. But Valjean was not going to stay and keep the greatest gift he had ever received – Redemption – to himself. He began a journey, like we all should, to give back to others, what had been given to him, namely Jesus.
He becomes the mayor of the town where Fantine is working and slaving away just to provide for her daughter who had been born out of wedlock, then abandoned by the father. Fantine sends money to a godless couple with whom her daughter is staying. It is the only way that Fantine knows to provide. The couple lie to Fantine and tell her the child is ill, so they need more money. In the meantime, the evil that lurks in the place where Fantine works raises its ugly head and Fantine is sent out by a dastardly man, one we are all very familiar with, to fend for herself, jobless. She believes her young daughter to be ill and near death, and begins to weep and cry and look for a way to provide, lest her daughter die. She is duped by the self-centered couple caring for her daughter, but like all of us have done, believes the lie. Jean Valjean has no idea at this point, that she has been cast to the wolves.
The scene comes where Fantine is ravaged by her abusers. Being ravaged – whether physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, financially or whatever – we have all been there. Once she has been cast out, her abusers become the people in the world. There is an eery similarity going on here. Fantine is counseled by her peers who believe they know what is best, what is right, and what she needs to do (sound familiar?). Their counsel just brings more trouble for Fantine. She is reduced to absolutely nothing, twisted and torn and given over to prostitution. She has sold her hair, her teeth and her body.
She declares that the man abusing her doesn’t know that she is already dead. Somewhere in there, the tears begin to flow and I am caught between her statements of “already dead” and “this hell I’m living”. Fantine is an example of what we have all lived in the past or what we are living now. Her face shows her misery and confusion. Her heart is scarred and torn because she did not choose this. She is not bitter, nor hateful, but she is lost in it. The pain overcomes her and she is so caught up in needing to do what is right to care for her child that she cannot see truth for the thorns. Her pain becomes so real to me. I feel the anguish and the scorn she feels. I know that God is real and alive and there for her aid, but where is He? Why does He let this happen? It is all so close to my heart. So different and yet so much the same; so far away and yet so familiar. Faith comes to my mind. Where is my faith? Where is hers? God may appear hidden, but He is not. He is ever so close, only like us, Fantine just cannot find Him. Her world of confusion has left her empty and sick and dying.
God sends Jean Valjean to the area and he finds Fantine. She is so angry with him because she views him as the one who did this to her. He swears to her, as he tries to tenderly touch her and she pushes him away in fear and self preservation, that he did not know. He takes her off and delivers her to care at a hospital. He then swears to her, as she lies dying, that he will find and care for her child, forever. This gives Fantine the peace she needs to rest. Something we all want. Our Savior to come. Who is left to care for the children of the murdered wife? Who is there to care for us? Who is there who will step in and take us away from the ravenous wolves; the wolves who are hidden where we are supposed to find safety?
The story goes on and Valjean finds Cossette, Fantine’s daughter, and pays the scoundrels for her and moves on, taking her with him. During this scene, I thought to myself, “These people have chosen to live this way. They have chosen to be thieves and take from everyone else. But I have not chosen that way, yet it seems that I am being punished as a thief would be, sacrificed because of what someone else has done to me.” Cossette is raised by Valjean and he tenderly loves and cares for her as if she were his own daughter and he protects and guards her as well – much like our Savior does for us. However, there are always those who are trying to rip her away, but he cautiously guards her and makes a way of escape.
Jean Valjean remains alone. He never marries. He fights this fight alone. Javert, the officer from the prison Valjean was in at the beginning of the movie, is determined to destroy Valjean and return him to prison for a parole violation. (How familiar.) Javert resists and is jealous of all the good Valjean has done because of his redemption. It seems Javert cannot grasp that Valjean is working for good. As so many of us have found, those opposed to truth cannot stand for the truth to be revealed. They fight us and refuse to budge, like Javert, because those not of Christ really do not want the oppressed to have their God-given freedom. In the end, Javert gives himself what he really stands for – justice – a strange yet darkly fitting form of justice for one who practiced such stringent and merciless justice to those around him. An act of mercy and grace led Valjean to repentance and redemption, and a similar act of mercy and grace led Javert to his damnation. He could not bear the thought that someone could show such compassion to him as Valjean did, and it felt so unjust that he could not bear it and drank the cup of his own justice. Notice during this scene, that the song being sung is the same melody as the song Valjean sings when he comes to repentance and receives his Redemption. Javert sings the same melody, when he receives his reward as well.
The rest of the film deals with the warring of the people trying to gain their freedom from oppression. Oh, it is just so exhausting, as they stand and fight the good fight, only to lose – but they haven’t really lost. This is how we victims feel: like ones who are warring. Warring for our own souls and minds; keeping our hearts from being bitter, and deluding ourselves that we have forgiven. Fighting so hard for what is right, and they take it away from us. They come through our barricades, like we deserve to die for their cause – to keep us silent. But we are the true Church and God awaits us. He chose us for this fight – and fight we will. Even if we lose, we have won. Even if we stand on the other side of what they say is “right” and “truth,” we know what is really right and what is really the truth. Why? Because like Jean Valjean, we know our King and who our Redemption came from. We know that our oppressors and abusers have defied His Redemption and claim on us. But we must stand and we must fight, because there are those who are coming behind us, who will walk where we have walked, who will sing our same battle cry – and we must pound the path for them.
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!
If we are to ensure that those who come behind us are not taken as slaves to abuse anymore, then we must stand.
We must wave Christ’s flag of freedom as we climb to the light,
Where we will live again in eternal freedom in the garden of the Lord.
Then, we will walk behind the ploughshare, and put away our swords.
For our fight will all be over,
But for those who come behind,
the ground will have a walkway,
that will easily be found.
The chain will be broken and we will all have our reward!
So, will you join in the crusade?
Pick up your cross and walk this way?
Will you stand with those who are weak; be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade the Pharisees build for you and me,
lies the truth and world of Christ, the one we long to see.
Can you hear the distant drums? Is there a future that you can see?
It’s the future that we bring to them, when their tomorrow comes.
Our tomorrow, at the end of this long, hard road, will bring the glory to God that He desires: freedom for His oppressed; but just as those that have gone before us, someone has to go to war and win the battle. That is our purpose. That is our fight. That is our desire. We all stand for freedom. Freedom from the abuse that has enchained us and kept us the captive of one other than our Christ and King.
The tears are still flowing, I am singing the final chorus, along with the movie, the theater is now filled with quiet sobs and sniffles, and then – a breaking of the silence, as the entire theater erupts into long, hard applause, yelling, whistling, as if to say, “We are fighting your good fight now! We are holding up the barricade. We are waging the war, even if we lose. You went before us, but we carry on – your work was not in vain! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
I hope you enjoy this moving and epic movie, as much as I did, and may your heart be just as strengthened and encouraged by it, as mine was.