Thursday, May 9

Les Miserables: Reflections and otherwise unrelated musings

So before launching out in a diatribe about the vices or virtues of a particular movie, book, or idea, I try to preface by stating my biases. Because everyone is biased, one way or the other, and the sooner you know a writer’s biases, the sooner you can take or leave what they are saying… or at least understand where they are coming from. Without further ado… I’m a literature snob. A cumulative six years studying Eng. Lit. will do that to you. And I’m boring in that I don’t like poetry. Which leads to my well-kept secret that I really don’t like musicals. My attitude as always been, “why spent ten minutes singing about something when you could say it in half a minute and move on with the story?” The other thing you need to know about me for the purpose of this story is that I usually resent it when American movie producers make a movie based on a book… particularly a book that qualifies as “literature.” This is why I love the BBC. Their productions of Dickens, Gaskell, or Trollope books are usually very close to the book. But look at the Lord of the Rings series. Peter Jackson had no business stealing Tolkien’s titles and characters and using them to write his own pre-teen action story. Plagiarism was cause for getting expelled when I was in college. Still with me? I promise, this is all leading to something soooo important that you will have to bear with me to read it. Finally, my last “issue” is that I think Hollywood is more or less going to hell in a handbasket. I mourn the good ol’ days of acting and producing that occurred way before I entered the world and idealize everything that’s in black and white and pre-1960. I think the acting has gone downhill, as well as the script writing, dialog, and the ability to produce movies that have more meaning than celebrating believing in yourself and self-expression. There are exceptions that may prove the rule, but let’s not fight over it because it’s just my opinion and we’re all entitled to one.

Ok! All that to say that the new Les Miserables with Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, and Hugh Jackman has severely altered all of the above pre-conceived notions.

When the opening scene opened with the men singing and pulling the boat into dry dock, my first thought was, “oh dear lord, it’s a musical. Please help me to stay awake.” By the time Fontaine was discharged from the factory, I was thoroughly engrossed. When Anne Hathaway started singing her solo, I knew this movie couldn’t be anything other than a musical because such perfection couldn’t be expressed in any medium other than music. God! I think el husband was converted to an Anne Hathaway fan last night. I’ve always loved her, but he’s a skeptic. But that scene where she sings “I dreamed a dream,” she became immortal. No one could forget that. It takes considerable talent to cry and talk articulately at the same time (believe me, I’ve tried it and it is not a form of self-expression of which I am proud), but to cry, use such a range of facial expressions, AND sing like an angel… it made me realize that the good ol’ days of Hollywood acting are far from gone. And did you notice that it was all shot in one scene? No re-do’s, no cuts… it was all one piece. After that scene, the movie just flowed for me. The singing became part of the experience and it was seamless. The music created the emotions one experiences throughout the movie. I think what sticks with me the most is how much expressions all the cast put into their singing. Usually, it’s singing or acting, but not both. But that many people, through so many scenes… and it holds together through the entire movie.

Movies based on a book. I’ve read Les Mis before and I’ve watched the Claire Danes version. Initially, I wanted to see the movie because all my friends recommend it and sadly, I was expecting to see yet another example of book-murder. Well, the movie did not follow the entire book story line. However, it’s one of the rare cases, I think, of where the movie can stand alone without the book and is a work of art independently of the book. What I really appreciated is that the movie stayed true and actually added to the religious theme of the book. Victor Hugo was not a Catholic, or if he was, he didn’t like the Catholic Church. Most of his books star bad Catholics, greedy priests, etc. Therefore, the scene with the priest at the beginning of the book is unusual for VH. My respect for the producer is even greater because Hollywood came out with a hugely successful movie that managed to avoid making priests and people with religious principles look weak, effeminate, or just plain undesirable. Instead, faith in God, belief in the goodness of man, in the truth of redemption and salvation, in mercy and meekness, in honesty, in self-sacrifice were shown to the most powerful elements in the world. This touched me particularly because as a Catholic and a person of faith, I’ve become jaded having to defend my faith or make excuses for it with regards to most books or movies. How refreshing to watch something that glorified the beliefs I hold dear and makes them an object of admiration rather than mockery.

My last point has nothing to do with anything I said in my intro (bad English major!!). But then, this isn’t graded. Of all the things, the part of the movie that affected me the most was the revolution part. I have to read up on my history to remember which revolution this was and what everyone was fighting about. Chances are, the rebels were people with whom I couldn’t sympathize on principle. But that’s not the point. What actually made me cry (just a tad) was thinking about the courage that is takes to fight and die for your beliefs, your cause. I’ve read quite a few articles recently that discussed how people and pop culture has become very tame in that they lack real causes. The main focus of these articles was the lack of (for lack of a better word!) balls in pop music today. Music used to express discontent with “the system” and people gravitated to and popularized the music because they believed in its message. I’m summarizing the article. My thoughts on this are not relevant. But the point was that people today lack causes. No one is really fighting for anything. Everyone is too comfortable (me including!) to get out and try to make a difference. Ok, if you volunteer at the pet shelter, don’t get mad at me. Good for you! There’s always the exception. And before anyone brings up “our troops” I will just say that there may be many fighting for “king, country, and free speech,” but for many, it’s a matter of economics and having a job. I admire and appreciate what they are doing in the same way I admire and appreciate anyone who holds a job that is “service oriented”… maybe a little more or less.

What really stirred me about the revolution scenes in Les Mis was the thought that at one point in time, people actually cared enough about an idea, a cause, a way of life, to put everything on the line and actually die for it. Giving up one’s life is the hardest thing to do, I think. I personally cannot think of anything I would actually die for, other than my kids. I’m being totally honest. I would certainly think more than twice if I had a choice between my life and my faith. This is because suffering for an idea, that there is something greater than life, is not a thought in the minds of most people today. Thomas Jefferson said something along the lines of “America needs a revolution every several years to keep people from becoming complacent.” This is more than just agitating society. It also keeps present in the minds of citizens that there is more to life than comforts, security, and safety. In my heart of hearts, I have no desire for civil unrest. I would like to go to my Maker one day without ever having experienced war. And I certainly rather deal with an ungodly government than see anything dangerous happen to my kids. I’m saying this in the interests of full disclosure so you don’t think I’m a pretentious b** anymore than you may already. (insert smiley face) Yet all this considered, or maybe because of it, I have an incredible amount of respect for people who are brave enough to die for a cause. God bless them!

If you haven’t seen Les Miserables yet, watch it!