As you all know, the latest movie version of Les Miz was released over Christmas. The positive response to the film proves the storyline’s universal appeal. Perhaps it is because the epic tale includes a little something for everyone—whatever stage of life you happen to be in. I went in with the prediction that a completely different set of themes and morales would pop up at me this time around, as I am a long way from where I started on this journey we like to call life. (Just as all the characters strayed from the path they’d imagined for themselves.) So, think about it. What plotline of the epic tale appeals to you most and why? Here. I’ll help break it down.
A Mother’s Love As I had no kids during my first exposure to the play, I didn’t quite get this one at the time. Since then I’ve had an epiphany—or, more accurately three (named Cassie, Bri and Cam). Everyone knows a good mom will walk to the ends of the earth and back again to protect her child. Fantine is no different, and I ached for her when it became clear the arrangement she so painstakingly secured for Cosette would not last. (She would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling factory workers!) If only I could find a nice innkeeper man and his wife to take care of my lot while I work. (Just kidding. I need to have the little rugrats in full view at all times if I’m to have any peace of mind.)
Forgiveness. It was a beautiful moment when the priest forgave Valjean his thievery and let him have that candlestick, thereby changing the course of a man’s life. Thanks to this compassionate act, Valjean became a mayor instead of some good-for-nothing lowlife. I’d like to think that things like this might happen, and I wish I could rewind to the days when I thought it a possibility… But God Almighty, have you seen what’s happened since? Kwame Kilpatrick. There’s a mayor that has been let off the hook a few too many times.
Revenge (a dish best served twenty years later, so it's no wonder it’s cold). This issue rears its ugly head in every story, various songs and in the latest incarnation of the old board game Clue: Murder Mystery Mansion. It will be our steady companion until the end of time. Case in point, that hit show on ABC, the one based loosely on The Count of Monte Cristo. Reality check: people don’t spend as much time plotting elaborate plots of revenge anymore. We’re simply not that smart. So unless they add an app on Facebook, we’ll have to get our fix through fiction. Yes, revenge makes for a good story, but I have a message for Javert: Seriously, dude. All he did was steal some freaking bread. Get over it.
Revolution I found it interesting that this movie was released on Christmas Day with trailers meant to make us shiver in anticipation. We couldn’t wait to storm the theatres for that wonderful musical that not only depicts a world rife with social injustice and heinous violence, but also centers on a bloody and ironically ineffectual revolution. Did it occur to anyone else that, considering the vast disparity between the classes in this country and the state of the economy, we’re probably closest to our own revolution than we’ve ever been before? Is that something to be celebrated and anticipated? To me, the timing of this re-release seemed ominous.
Young Love Marius and Cosette. They’re young, they’re in love, they don’t kill people. Snore. Bonnie and Clyde they are not.Various incarnations of these kids turn up in every play I’ve ever seen, and they always turn my stomach. To me this is the least interesting tangent of this classic story. I’m so not a romantic.
Unrequited Love Or maybe I am, because I feel differently about Eponine’s doomed love for Marius. This is my favorite, favorite, favorite sub-plot of Les Miz, and all the years that have passed since I’ve last seen the musical haven’t changed my feeling on the matter. I relate to Eponine’s face-pressed-against love’s glass stance in this play. The fact the world is falling apart around her and she’s still pining makes her that much more sympathetic. Her character interests more than Cosette aka Mary Sue ever could. (Have I mentioned I love the underdog?) True, a little drop of rain can’t hurt them, but the buckets falling from my eyes might drown this enchanting duo, two gleaming points of the love triangle that never was. Ah, Eponine! Ah, humanity! Ah, Marius, you are the biggest dolt ever! Oh well. At least my expansive tears might make the flowers grow.
It Takes a Village A good man’s willingness to raise a stranger’s daughter. So hot. The way those fathering skills just come out of nowhere. The way Valjean pays it forward. I’m drooling over his self-sacrifice. It doesn’t hurt that Hugh Jackman is in the role, but honestly, it doesn’t matter to me who plays Valjean. Nothing sexier than an honorable man. (Case in point: Bates on Downton Abbey. Every woman I know is lusting after him, although he’s not what you’d call traditionally handsome.) You gave your word to a stranger on her deathbed that you’ll take her daughter in. You promise to raise the girl to the light. And you do—even as the pathological jailer tries to hunt you down. Jean Valjean, I will love you till the day I die.
Unhygienic Inns Bed bugs, rats, phantom charges, seedy managers, over-priced mini-bars (C’mon, they’re scandalous rip-offs!). This topic is relevant even today. Thank God for hotel.com reviews.
Lecherous innkeepers, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and bullying—In a perfect world Fontine could’ve marched down to human resources and reported these instances of verbal abuse. It's amazing that this theme seems even MORE relevant today than it did several years ago. Shame on us.
War-bred Camaraderie Pre 9-11, this had a whole different meaning. Enter the war on terror and the difficulties we're having facilitating our returning milary's transition into the mainstream of society, and it's hard to put this into context.
Everlasting Life This sub-plot (and the priest’s contribution to the storyline) had me thinking this might be something my mother would enjoy. Back then it never would’ve occurred to her to attend a play entitled Les Miserables unless forced. (Back then this was a common lament: Who wants to watch a play about miserable people?) In any case, I never got a chance to buy her tickets, so I was ecstatic that she saw the movie around Christmas—and liked it.
Rising above one’s station A former criminal becomes a mayor. A pious officer of the law is warped by obsession. A young girl desires to rise above her circumstances, yet is content to die in the arms of her secret crush. Armed only with passion for a cause and little or no training, educated men rush into battle and fall. New regimes gain a power they'll eventually abuse and the whole cycle starts again. Les Miz is a story that calls into question whether the promises of democracy are ever fulfilled. It sure isn’t keeping up its end of the deal as well as darling Hugh, I mean, Valjean. So, I return again to my point of the trailer being somewhat ominous. Yet the powers that be don't seem afraid the peasants will hear echoes of their own circumstances and revolt. And if they're not worried, then neither am I.