Les Mis: Movie Review


The musical Les Miserables begins and ends with the sung words “Look down!” That is, look down at the suffering, the poor, those who are told to look down, those who don’t dare lift their eyes to dream. There is a feeling of the socially-conscious Dickens’ work to Les Mis.

The nemeses are introduced early: Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) towers over Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who is under his merciless, but not sadistic, command. Javert is a man of untempered justice, and has put himself under the law’s impersonal, blind eyes, as well. He believes salvation—of every kind—lies in the letter of the law.

For those still not familiar with the storyline, the crux is how two different men react to similar misfortune. But they are not polar opposites: one an angel, one a demon. Valjean was shown great mercy and kindness by a bishop that was a turning point in his life. He tries to pass this on to everyone he encounters, including Javert, but Javert’s God exacts revenge and punishment.

There is so much God simply and naturally interwoven in the lives of the characters—who were all pretty much believers. God is the reference point. There are different interpretations of what God desires, perhaps, but He is always just a thought or prayer away. Director Tom Hooper said, “You have to tell this story from the point of view that God exists.”

The action takes off immediately. There’s no dilly-dallying. A colorful, rich, but uncomplicated network of characters enter the story very naturally, and we get to know them very quickly and very intimately—probably because we see the most fateful events of their lives which they then proceed to sing about, revealing their inner discourse to us, something that is usually restricted in the medium of (purist) film.

The film is filled with very realistic situations we have all experienced: being forced to compromise, dire financial straits, tough decisions, unrequited love, separated lovers, begging mercy, showing mercy, paying dues, taking up a cause, etc. There’s kind of “something for everyone,” big chunks of life—without being overstuffed.

Les Mis is more than “set against a backdrop.” The backdrop—that of an uprising in France in 1815–is an integral part of each character’s  story, even though some situations/circumstances, such as poverty, are universal and repeat themselves in every time and place. The film ends by returning to the scene of the uprising and the people (“the miserable ones”) singing a song of hope for the future.

The question seems to be: Who are you in Les Mis?



About Author

Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation founded to communicate God's Word through the media. She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy Education; has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from St. John's University, NYC; studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood; and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She is the movie reviewer for “The Catholic New World,” Chicago’s Archdiocesan newspaper. She is currently writing and producing a documentary on the life of Blessed James Alberione: www.MediaApostle.com. Sr. Helena has been giving Media Literacy and Theology of the Body workshops to youth and adults all over the U.S. and Canada since the 90’s, and believes that media can be a primary tool for sharing God's love and salvation. Sr. Helena Burns, fsp Pauline Books & Media 172 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601 hburns@paulinemedia.com www.hellburns.blogspot.com www.pauline.org facebook: Helena Burns twitter: @SrHelenaBurns

  • Katherine Andes

    That’s a good question, sister … who are you in the film? It’s been a long time since I read the novel … but after seeing the opera again, it struck me that Javert was a Calvinist with his unforgiving God … Is there any hint of that in the novel?