Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables

We went to see several movies over the break, one of which was Les Mis.  I'm not much for musicals and didn't really enjoy Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe's voices, but I think the story is very interesting.  I liked the Liam Neeson version better, but there were some things that stuck out about this one.

1. The first was how much better most of our lives are today than in the 1800s, even in tough economic times.  The laws of the land really do seem to protect most of us most of the time.  Sure, there is still injustice.  Minorities still face discrimination. Urban areas still give rise to no win situations where a person has little choice but to join a gang.

But I would like to think that things aren't nearly as unjust as they used to be. I would at least like to think that much fewer women get forced into prostitution. I'd like to think that most people can eventually find a job. I would like to think that most policemen really do follow the law and that most judges can't be bought.

Still, I fear a lot of injustice goes on that I am not aware of because I live in comfortable circumstances (despite how uncomfortable they may be to me at times).  A "great society" should have a path for anyone to make their way out of the mire.  I have an unfinished and unpublished post somewhere in here called "Bring back the WPA."

2. In keeping with what I have just said, I do not believe that American society is less pleasing to Jesus today than it was in the 1800s.  The world of slavery in the early 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's equal protection under the law.  (It is ironic to me that the idea of equal rights or equal protection somehow seems less Christian than, what?  What's the so called "conservative" alternative?)

The world of industrial revolution in the late 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's world of consumer and worker protection. (The problem with communism is that it doesn't work given human nature, not that the idea of "to each according to his need" is unChrist-ian).

Those who see America in a downward moral spiral are usually focusing on issues like sex or church attendance.  But Scripture tells us that the measure of morality is love of neighbor, not violation of moral rules.  The laws of America are more "loving"--giving rights to each as each would like to have rights--than ever before. Atheism is on the rise, but I consider that to a large extent the church's fault for making God look stupid and irrelevant.

3. I preferred the way the Liam Neeson version portrayed the Javert, inspector, character to the Russell Crowe version.  It wasn't clear to me in the recent version why he would commit suicide.  I thought the earlier version captured well the French sense of absolute law.  Someone must pay, so he kills himself.

This ridiculous sense of penal substitution among some Christians is similar to how many unbiblically paint God, unable to show mercy on his own authority, required to make someone pay (in our case Christ). Scripture doesn't have such a rigid view of God's justice.

4. I also was reminded that no human tribe is inevitably civilized.  Civilization must be perpetuated by education and by empowerment.  No human tribe is beyond revolution if some portion is disempowered and kept down for long enough.  A nation descends out of civilization if it does not pay attention to its despondent.  French history is an annoying illustration.  The wealthy must pay attention to the impoverished in their own self-interest.

1 comment:

Theresa said...

I'm a huge fan of Les Miserables (the novel, both films, and the staged musical) and enjoyed reading your insight. I tend to read many reviews about it. Just an FYI - the 2012 cinematic version, in my humble opinion, is a lot more in line with the actual novel despite it being a musical. Javert was portrayed best in the Liam Neeson/Geoffrey Rush version, but Javert is not really as important of a character as Jean Valjean, Cosette, or Marius, and the Geoffrey Rush version leaves out Eponine for the most part. If someone is looking at the story mostly from the Valjean vs. Javert point of view, I can see how the 1997 version would be more satisfying, but the way the emotions and the love between Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, and Marius (and Marius and Eponine) were portrayed in the 2012 version of the film was much truer to the book and those themes are the most important of the story. As for Hugh Jackman's and Russell Crowe's voices - I do think the criticism they received generally was a bit unfair. The director, Tom Hooper, wanted them to sing that way. Both men can sing "prettier" than they did in the film. Hooper took a huge risk and recorded the entire musical with the actors singing live, asking them to make their voices sound raw and more realistic rather than pretty (as they sing it in the Broadway show). If you look up Hugh Jackman singing other things, he has a wonderful voice and I think that opinion is generally agreed upon. He was also at one point singing in freezing and unpleasant conditions and carried that film on his back. If you look at the training they had to go through, I think they deserve all the praise in the world. Hugh was singing 12 hours per day for several months almost continuously while taking his body through physical extremes (losing 30 lbs. in a short amount of time, then having to gain it all back in a short amount of time) and even working out intensely with heavy weights for 3 hours early in the morning. He sang in cold conditions daily. All of this takes an extreme physical toll on your body, your vocal cords (he suffered a hemorrhage in his vocal cords last year so he is no stranger to the type of trauma it can cause) and even your emotional state. I have the utmost respect for what Hugh Jackman did (he did do much more than Russell Crowe for the role, but I respect Crowe as well).