Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Miserables

Somehow, I managed to get this far in life without ever having seen the Broadway musical. Nevertheless, I am pretty certain that the movie is objectively superior in every way to the live musical. You can see all of the characters close up, the sets are gorgeous, and every scene is going to have a higher level of perfection because they can be shot multiple times until they are just right, and then they are edited afterward. Live theater is a positional good which is desirable because it’s expensive. Thorstein Veblen would no doubt call it “conspicuous consumption,” and the consumers of such can demonstrate their superior bourgeois tastes over the uncultured proletarian masses who watch movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

I’ve also managed to get this far in life knowing very little about the period of French history in which Les Miserables takes place. I blame the mediocre public school system for this gap in my education. (I highly recommend sending your kids to private school if you can afford it.)

The movie itself is long. Are you ready for more than two and a half hours of singing? Unlike what I consider the quintessential musical movie, Grease, which features a lighthearted story alternating between normal spoken parts and the characters doing lip-synched musical performances, Les Miserable is more like a modern high tech English-language opera. There are hardly any spoken parts, nearly everything is sung, and as other reviews have pointed out, the characters are truly singing their parts and not lip-synching them. There is also not much about this movie that’s lighthearted at all, except for the song “Master of the House” performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who play the greedy scheming innkeepers whose extortion of money from Fantine for taking care of her illegitimate daughter Cosette leads to her demise in prostitution.

I had originally thought that I wouldn’t want to listen to any of this music again, but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all day, and I’m actually quite enjoying it.

The most significant aspect of this movie is the strong Christian theme. It’s very rare, these days, to see a movie that’s unironically Christian. Now I can see readers having two extreme points of view on this, from “darn, I thought Hollywood has finally stamped out Christianity, and now this” to “yay! about time!”


What makes this movie Christian? The main character, Jean Valjean, is Jesus-like in his 19 years of suffering through harsh slavery. But he is able to obtain redemption because of the faith of Bishop Myriel who saves him from arrest and return to slavery and allows him to keep the silver items he stole from the church to fund his future life, which he lives in an exemplary Christian fashion. After that, Valjean has many opportunities to do the expedient but morally wrong thing, but he always does what’s right, and the movie clearly lets you know that he will be rewarded in the afterlife for his good behavior.


This movie has my recommendation, and if it wins any Academy Awards, they are deserved.


  1. Credit has to go to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who though was not involved in this musical at all (the musical premiered as a French Language concept album, then production in Paris at a sports arena, THEN the West End, THEN Broadway, THEN the movie).

    Lloyd Webber hit on the idea of actually entertaining people with melodies and lyrics that were pleasant to hear, and understandable. Before that, a lot of Broadway musicals seemed to borrow from John Cage and Philip Glass (if you've heard his sound track from "the Photographer" aka the story of Edweard Muybridge and his named was spelled like that you know what I'm talking about, dweedle-dweedle, repeated for about ten minutes is his idea of a melody, ditto "Nixon in China") and rejected Tin Pan Alley.

    Lloyd Webber showed there was a lot of money entertaining nice middle class ladies with song and dance. Instead of playing to the same 800 moneyed rich people looking for thrills and status.

    At least this movie beat out Django. So its got that going for it.

  2. The bishop who saves Jean Valjean is a commom stock character i.e "kindly priest" who tells the main protagonist not to lose faith in the world but the priest profession can easily be substituted for any other teacher role. he is a priest only because that is a recognizable trope so that audiences can recognize the plot point "valjean is having an epiphany to change his ways" which fits the setting of catholic france and not like what usually happens where the main, formerly irreligious character is suddenly having this conversation/epiphany with a priest in a catholic church.

    there is nothing of christian theology stated or expressed in the entire movie except unless you go looking for it in the subtext which is subjective to individual preferences but certainly not intended by the text.

    the opening scene the prisoners sing their hopelessness as evidence of absence of god and then god is never mentioned again.

    through out the movie people are doing kind and selfless things for others and then there are horrible, misguided things being done by other people or the same people. Javert kills himself, Valjean ends his life on the run, Cassette is deprived of a father, Marius his friends, et cetera, as for acts of kindnesss representing the best values of christianity, sorry that is pretty hollow and literally what every religion says about its tenets "now that is what buddhism/islam/christianity/judaism is really about! kindness and love towards your fellow man!" really? it's not about it's actual doctrines? just love? then I guess it does not matter what religion someone practices right? wrong. what it's really about is it's religious dogma, what distinguishes them from the non-believers and love does not qualify.
    And the movie makes no mention of any christian dogma whatsoever, that's the reason I have a hard time believing anyone is going to take home a 'christian message' from this movie unless they were already looking for it.

    like Valjean says he is a man like any other, no worse, no better, that is not divinity-conceived jesus now is it. If anything the end message is that we are all just people, and that kindness is the only thing that makes life worth living in a world where there is no redemption.

  3. You blame the school system for holes in your education? Nothing stops you from reading up on these momentous events. Except lack of curiosity of course.

    1. While I can't agree with our blogger on everything, I would certainly not accuse him of lack of curiosity. We can't all have deep knowledge about everything. He merely gave his opinion, which I respect. What are you trying to accomplish by denigrating his character? We all have shortcomings.

    2. While I can't agree with our blogger on everything, I would certainly not accuse him of lack of curiosity. We can't all have deep knowledge about everything. He merely gave his opinion, which I respect. What are you trying to accomplish by denigrating his character? We all have shortcomings.

    3. I don't agree with our blogger about everything, but I would not accuse him of a lack of curiosity. He offered his opinion, which I respect. We can't have deep knowledge about everything. What do you hope to gain by denigrating his character?

  4. There is something objectively better about the show versus the movie: the show had better singers. Russell Crowe is a fantastic actor -- but he's not the best singer. Hugh Jackman's singing voice is annoying.

    On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne has a marvelous singing voice, and Anne Hathaway is as beautiful as ever.

  5. "I blame the mediocre public school system for this gap in my education."

    You went to Stuyvesant.

    1. I was contesting the implication that Stuyvesant was "mediocre".

    2. The Undiscovered JewDecember 27, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      OT, is the iPad growing on you?

  6. Sure, Lenny, but Les Miz was written by a French guy, so this is with a Catholic tinge. The pattern of suffering and redemption does seem Christian (you can see it in the book of Job, but Christianity arose from Judaism).

    Too bad you didn't learn about the ancien's where a lot of Leftist tropes come from. The French Revolution was the first really leftist revolution. The whole decadent aristocrat bit, the parasitical 1%...they all fit the French monarchy pretty well.

  7. I like the name, it sounds cool like some sort of experimental Silicon Valley software product.

  8. If you like musicals on film, the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar is excellent. I believe that was one of the first, if not the first, rock operas. Lyricist Tim Rice got the idea for telling the Jesus story sympathetically from the viewpoint of Judas, while in grammar school. Carl Anderson gives maybe the best singing performance of all time in that film.

    I saw Les Mis in high school but it didn't do much for me.

    Private schools are overrated. They are not necessarily academically rigorous-- just expensive siphons to keep the precious darlings from rubbing shoulders with riffraff.

  9. I concur that this is not particulary Christian. Like the Victorian literature of the period, it comes from reformist movements with inspiration in Christian heresies, but that is not the same thing.