The movie I want to see again. Soon

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“We must go and see this again next week,” my wife and I said to each other after watching Les Miserables. This new film is simply amazing.

I’ve already written about the incredible spiritual parallels in the film, the multiple starting points for conversation (many connected with personal pain and life issues), and the growing number of online resources available, especially the Damaris video shorts and study guide, and Rusty Wright’s free-to-use article. So this post is a few personal and random thoughts about this production:

  • There are appreciable changes from the stage version: several new songs, amendments to existing wording, cuts in the libretto, and small pieces of new spoken dialogue (although the movie is still mainly ‘sung through’). All are well chosen and contribute to a clearer understanding of the story. I guess that many of these changes will make it through to future stage productions too.
  • The cross is used as a strong motif at several points throughout the film. And watch for the use of a coffin to reflect Fantine’s words ‘…one already dead’.
  • The original creative team of Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer, and Cameron Mackintosh were all available to be involved in the adaptation from stage to screen. So the vision has not only survived the change of medium intact, but been enhanced. It was doubtless a labor of love for each of them, a fulfillment of an almost sacred trust and sense of guardianship. Has this ever happened in the history of musical theater before, especially after 25+ years?
  • The songs were recorded live, and not lip-synced afterwards as is normal with film versions of stage musicals. (The orchestra backing was added later.) The reality and emotion that this gives is transformational. Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream is sheer raw pain.
  • Few of the cast are professional singers, or even necessarily very polished vocally. On stage, this would matter. On the screen, it actually contributes to a sense of reality and honesty.
  • So I don’t think, for example, that Russell Crowe was miscast as Javert. His portrayal in the book, and now the film, is of a roughly-hewn 19th-century police inspector (and former prison guard), not an intellectual public prosecutor and legal eagle.
  • The film is shot with frequent closeups, and few self-indulgent camera tricks. So it’s going to work well on the small screen when it goes to DVD and network TV in the future. (Whether the audio soundtrack will work so well on its own, I don’t know.
  • One thing I’ve often wondered – how did Eponine, daughter of the unspeakable Thenardiers, emerge as a sensitive caring adult prepared to make sacrifices for others! And strangely, in the musical and the film, there is little hint of what is made explicit in the book: that Eponine deliberately takes a bullet to save Marius, whom she secretly loves. Incidentally, in the book, but not mentioned in the stage or film versions, street child Gavroche is actually the abandoned son of the Thenardiers. So both siblings give their lives at the barricades.

    In the book incidentally, M. Thenardier eventually uses his ill-gotten gains to become a slave trader in the West Indies, while Mme Thenardier (for whom book author Victor Hugo could hardly bear to use the honorific Mme, and sometimes called her ‘the Thenardieress’) dies well before the end of the narrative.

  • The portrayal of the Thenardiers by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter is chillingly good, with less humor than the stage version. As in the musical and book, they are the villains of the piece. Javert is not enemy as much as adversary.

If popular culture is God’s gift to us as a starting point for the good news, Les Mis is our main Christmas/New Year present. Open it and use it.

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