Having been introduced to the world of musicals in my teens through “Les Miserables” I have a special affinity for this musical. I watched the musical about three times live on stage, and read the book by Victor Hugo. Each time there was a different part that struck a chord with me. I assume it depended on where I was in my life at the time.
The first time I saw the musical, I don’t know if I caught the story line because I was young and overwhelmed by the ‘live’ visual effects I was witnessing for the first time on stage. I recall being most captured by the music. Other times, I recall being especially taken by the love triangle.
When I read the book, I was especially touched by the kindness of the bishop and the struggle Val Jean faces while raising Cosette and fleeing from Javert.
With the exception of what I believe were unnecessary scenes, I thoroughly enjoyed this latest version of “Les Miserables” in theatres. I was only disappointed with the graphic content used in the ‘Master of the House’ scene. And while the actors did a great job portraying their characters, I seemed to have the most difficulty with Russel Crowe’s role as Javert.
This time around I was most captured by the underlying story of hope in “Les Miserables”. Based on how many characters lose their lives, and the great loss experienced at the barricade this story is seemingly a tragedy. However, it culminates in the final scene. In this scene there is a sense of hope, when the song “of angry men” becomes a song from ‘beyond the barricade’, while those who have passed away are singing from eternity. This is a call to all us who battle daily against the evils and injustice in this life. We should not be discouraged when we don’t see the fruits of our efforts. Like the characters in this story, it is not whether they succeeded that was important so much as the fact that they tried.
Surely we don’t want to be like the servant in the parable of the talents (Mathew 25:14-30) who didn’t do anything with his talents and was judged harshly for it. Moreover, if we take the attitude that there is nothing we can do to change the culture in which we live then we are not a people of hope. As people of hope we accept that there will always be work to do, but we set out to affect change regardless of success. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful.”
In the story of “Les Miserables” those who took to the barricade to fight against the corrupt government were the youth. This resounded so clear to me. As a story of hope, we would have to see the youth taking on the role to affect change. Youth generally have a rebellious nature, when that rebellious nature is rooted in just causes we see major change and brave sacrifice. As adults we place the hope of a better future in our youth. Indeed, in scripture, we find a call for the youth to not be intimidated by those who look down on them for their youth. (Timothy 4:12 ). It also reminded me of the book “Do Hard Things” which is a Christian book based on the above scripture passage. It’s a call to our youth to rebel against low expectations.
Perhaps the most tragic character in the story of “Les Miserables” is Javert. While all the characters struggle, for some all they have is hope of a better future. Whereas, Javert is a man without hope, he cannot fathom anything but the law. He reminded me of two people in scripture. The Pharisees who were so intent on the law, they forgot about cultivating and nurturing a personal relationship with God. So much so, that when God was in front of them, whether Jesus himself or his disciples they could not recognize Him. He also reminds me of Jonah, who was called to go to Nineveh and implore them to change their ways or deal with God’s wrath. Yet, when the people of Nineveh listened to him, he couldn’t fathom God’s mercy and still expected they would face punishment. Javert like these two biblical persons cannot see past the law and just punishment. This in the end is the cause of his demise. Without hope and without God’s mercy, we fail to see Christ in others. We become unable to see that Christ can penetrate even the worst of sinners. We cannot judge hearts, we can judge actions. If we look at Val Jean’s actions it is clear that he is a changed man. Javert sees the world only through the eyes of the law, while he is a God-fearing man, he fails to see a fellow Christian in Val Jean and is overcome with pride.
The creators of the musical show an interesting parallel between Val Jean and Javert when they have them sing the same song at the turning point in their lives. “Val Jean’s Soliloquy” and “Javert’s Suicide” use the same lyrics, yet for Val Jean it is a time to change his life, to live for God and make better choices, for Javert it marks a time of great despair and the end of his earthly life.
While the title seems to imply that this is a miserable story, what lies underneath the surface is truly a story of hope. The barricade symbolizes all the challenges, struggles and obstacles we face in this earthly life. We face those struggles and we fight the good fight, with hope that goes beyond this life, a supernatural hope, a hope of a better life in eternity.