A Story of Redemption

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie Les Miserables but intend to, you might not want to read this blog post yet.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals, unlike my daughter, Nicole, who practically made her husband promise to take her to one every year before she agreed to marry him. Nicole’s seen several different renditions of Les Miserables in her short twenty-seven years—and shared her experiences with me every time. I’ve been regaled with the names Jean Valjean, Fantine, Javert, Cosette and Eponine, but never felt the impulse to check out their story for myself—until the recently released film, starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who both won Golden Globe Awards for their portrayals.

I figured Chris wouldn’t want to attend, so I was pleasantly surprised when he suggested we go after he got off of work last Thursday. Fifteen minutes into the movie, it hit me that this is a story of redemption. And it’s not like they hide it behind symbolism and double-speak—it’s right out there for the world to see. Much of the music was familiar, yet I’d somehow missed the lyrics, often prayers—promises to God, pleas to God—crying out for mercy in dire circumstances.

The idea that Jean Valjean could be imprisoned five years for stealing a bit of bread for his starving nephew—and then compound that sentence with another fourteen years for several escape attempts—seems hugely unjust. But not more so than the brutal beating and crucifixion that Christ endured for our sins. We are to respond in gratitude, which is how Valjean responded when given a second chance by the mercy of a priest, who saw something redemptive in this broken man.

Valjean’s focus became saving Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, who is left an orphan when Fantine dies (much too early in the movie, as far as I’m concerned.) He has a purpose, which starts out self-sacrificial, but which brings him abundant joy, as sacrifices often do. But in order to make good on his promise to Fantine, he must escape Javert, who has made it his purpose to return Valjean to prison for skipping out on parole.

Javert is not only the law, but he’s a symbol of “The Law”—a Pharisee if I’ve ever seen one. And like the Pharisees who were so preoccupied with rules and regulations they missed the Messiah, Javert can’t see Valjean for the man of great moral character that he is. When Valjean has the opportunity to exact revenge on Javert, thereby securing his freedom for good, he instead spares the man’s life. It’s then that Javert’s eyes are opened, and unable to handle his own shame, takes his own life. Remind you of someone else in the Bible?

I had such a difficult time with Javert committing suicide. I suppose I wanted to see that someone as single-minded as he could be saved. I wanted redemption for him. It’s not that I was attached to the character (and to be perfectly honest, I’m not a Russell Crowe fan, either—ever since that thing with Meg Ryan), but still, I hoped that grace and mercy could save him, as it did Valjean. It wouldn’t have bothered me if he’d died in some other way—a stray bullet during the rebellion maybe. But to look redemption in the face and choose death instead is too sad.

The end of the movie has everyone who’s died (which is just about everyone save Cosette and her new husband) singing and flag-waving their way to what I assume is heaven. As we watched the end credits roll by, Chris said, “What did we expect from a movie named The Miserables?” True. The movie didn’t leave me feeling especially light-hearted. But it didn’t leave me un-feeling either. How could it? The story, as difficult as it was, had such redemptive value.

The acting was superb; the singing, spine-tingling; the scenery breathtaking. The opening scene alone was enough to make me sit up and take notice. As we lay in bed that night, I was just on the edge of falling asleep when Chris said, “The actors in that movie must have been first in line when God was handing out gifts.” To be beautiful and act and sing. Some of us will just have to wait for heaven.

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