We’d never gone to the movies on Christmas day, though apparently there are many families who do. But Les Mis, the movie, was, in our opinion, not to be missed, so we went.
Let me explain a bit of background. My husband and I first saw Les Mis on stage nearly 25 years ago. We have been huge fans ever since, captured by both the story of grace vs. judgement as well as the amazing music, staging, etc. Not only do we own (and listen to on a regular basis) the three CD symphonic recording, we have seen the stage play numerous times in both Dallas and New York. And every time PBS shows one of the anniversary Les Mis “concerts,” we stop and watch. I even read the entire unabridged version some 15 years ago! So we went into the movie with more than a little fear and trepidation that we would hate it.
Now, hubby didn’t think as much of this film adaptation (he liked it, but doesn’t rave about it), but my daughter and I loved it. I have a few reasons why.
- The Acting: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne. While the other actors did amazing jobs as well, these three stood out as Valjean, Fantine, and Marius, capturing the emotional journey of each character completely, making me feel both their despair and their joy. In fact, I’ve never really like Marius before in all the performances I’ve ever seen. He’s always seemed . . .wimpy. But played by Eddie Redmayne, I suddenly saw Marius as naive and idealistic instead of weak. I liked it.
- The Cinematography: It’s impossible to capture both the grandeur and the squalor of early 19th century Paris on stage the way it is possible on screen. I loved the continual imagery in the scenery that reflected the characters’ journeys, such as Valjean’s decision to choose to walk in love and grace, the ending of one life and beginning of another, happening in a graveyard. I loved that symbolism of dying to the old self. Another was when Javert sang his vow to track down Valjean and see him arrested happening on the pinacle of the cathedral, while overlooking the city. As if he were God looking down. Which is, of course, his whole problem.
- The Book Elements: There are several places where the stage production leaves out things important to the story as it is written in its novel form. Some of these are able to be added back in in this film version, which I liked. Things like Fantine selling her teeth, Javert asking Monsieur le Mayor to dismiss him for accusing him of being Valjean to the authorities and the authorities telling him he is wrong and Valjean is in custody, Valjean buying Cosette the doll when he takes her away from the Thenardiers, Valjean and Cosette finding sanctuary in a Paris convent, where Valjean later returns to die. And I loved the clarification of Marius’s situation as it is in the book–that he is living in the slums though his grandfather is rich, that his grandfather is displeased with his actions but takes him back in when he is injured after the fighting.
- The Story: I can’t help but love this story in any form. And the foundation of faith it is built upon is not downplayed in the movie version. It is clear that while both Valjean and Javert consider themselves men of faith, there is a huge difference in how that is played out in their lives. It is a story so full of grace and love, of sacrifice and selflessness. It is the story of each one of us.
Yes, there are some things I like better in each unique presentation. I’m not sure you can recreate the same emotion that live singing and orchestra does, but they certainly found other ways to adapt and to pull just as much emotion from the viewer. And to my surprise, I felt they kept the two bawdy scenes/songs at a discreet minimum where I had expected to cringe at the exposure. And much like with the stage version, those were not the images I left with in my mind. Instead, I left uplifted, grateful, sad, happy, cheering and crying. The same way I leave the theater or close the back cover of the book or shut off the CD player or ipod. I’m so glad we went.
Have you seen Les Mis in any version? What is your favorite character or scene?