Skip to comments.Les Miz: Mizleading on History of Change
Posted on 12/28/2012 7:25:39 AM PST by Borges
Revolutionary fervor in seizing the barricades for change makes for great theater and grand cinema, but seldom produces the positive results that young idealists desire. Those constructive consequences come much more reliably from middle-aged, middle-class virtues, patience, planning, deferred gratification, hard work, incremental improvementwith far less flash and glory.
Thats the problem at the very heart of the magnificent new movie version of Les Miserables, an obvious front-runner for nominations in every major category in this years Oscar race. In faithfully adapting the hit stage show, which in turn followed the classic outlines of the revered Victor Hugo novel of 1862, the movie hands audiences an inescapably disturbing and ultimately dishonest conclusion. Its unsettling rather than upliftingnot at all what the heroic filmmakers (led by director Tom Hooper, who previously did brilliant work on The Kings Speech) intended.
The final segment of the sprawling story focuses on a bloody incident of French history: the failed June Rebellion of 1832. Following the wrenching disruption and slaughter of the original French Revolution (beginning in 1789), the constant warfare of the Napoleonic era, the emperors exile and brief return (1815), re-institution of the monarchy, and another violent uprising in 1830 that installed the Citizen King Louis-Phillipe, the short-lived revolt dramatized in the novel and movie would be largely forgotten were it not for Les Miserables. The failure of the student-led uprising, culminating in nearly 200 deaths in two days of street battles, produced only more repression, and then more grisly turmoil, until another Revolution in 1848 gave way to another Emperor (Napoleon III). That imperial episode collapsed after disastrous defeat in a major war with Prussia (1870), and the brutal failure of the worlds first Communist revolution (1871), yet another forlorn and violent attempt to bring on a glorious new day.
No one can expect a movie or a stage show to portray or even hint at the turbulent, dysfunctional, corpse-ridden course of French history throughout the 19th century. But as grand entertainment with a passionately personal focus, the movie version of Les Miserables almost entirely ignores historical context while glorifying the revolutionary inclination, regardless of results. A reprise of the stirring song When Tomorrow Comes concludes the epic journey of the storys long-suffering characters with unbridled utopian visions:
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade Is there a world you long to see? Do you hear the distant drums? There is a life about to start When tomorrow comes!
Astonishing visual splendor accompanies these rousing lyrics, with tens of thousands of impassioned revolutionaries (provided through the magic of computer graphics imagery) joining back-from-the-dead characters on screen, waving red flags on huge barricades vastly more formidable than those portrayed in the films extended sequence showing the doomed, minor rising of 1832. The implication? That the youthful and handsome true believers may have failed to win a brave new world in the episode dramatized on screen but their revolutionary cause ultimately succeeded when future generations rallied to the call of distant drums and rushed to other barricades to make sure that the chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.
This glorious deliverance never occurred, of course: the violent revolutions that wracked Europe and Asia in the spirit of Les Miserables only served to make humanity more miserable, not to produce some glorious workers paradise. Does anyone still believe that the Russian or Chinese revolutions, with their tens of millions of slaughtered civilians, actually succeeded in bringing about a world you long to see?
Sure, Russia and China today offer vastly more benign and productive societies than the corrupt feudal days of the czarist or imperial past, but thats because they followed the inspiration of the American revolution, not the French version. The founders of this countrynearly all of them merchants, planters or commerce-oriented lawyersextolled the power of business and the profit motive, and the benefits of disparate centers of individual enterprise, rather than grand utopian and collectivist visions leading armed youth to the barricades. George Washington never made himself an emperor or a dictator, and the new nation never followed his eight-year presidency with an era of revolutionary violence and instability. Two hundred and fifteen years after the Father of His Country left his presidential perch we may wince at the dysfunctional politics at the edge of the fiscal cliff, but we should still feel thankful that weve always avoided the chaotic and devastatingly destructive discontinuity that has characterized all nations with a more radical revolutionary past.
American audiences may thrill to the big-hearted and redemptive storytelling of the movie version of Les Miserables, but their reaction will stem in part from the confidence that the tomorrow promised in the movies conclusion has already arrived for most of humanity. Following the incomparably influential American model, France and the other developed nations of the planet have mostly eliminated the brutal squalor and oppression dramatized so vividly in Victor Hugos 19th century masterpiece and its latest adaptation.
That transformation occurred through the virtues exemplified by the novels central figure, Jean Valjean, the reformed ex-convict who remakes himself as a businessman, factory owner, and mayor of a small city. In the best traditions associated with modern conservatismpursuing profit, productivity, middle class respectability, local community service, and even religious redemptionValjean offers the right prescription for shaping a kinder, gentler society. Since that failed rebellion of 1832, building businesses changed the world for the better, not angry mobs mounting the barricades. Tomorrow did come, but it was through Les Biz rather than through Les Miz.
I thought the end was pointing to a better world in the next life, rather than this life. But then I viewed it as a believing Christian rather than a humanist.
The combination of Christian and Secular redemption among the various characters is a large part of the reason that the musical has been so popular and appeals to disparate political stripes.
Thought you may like this.
It appears Medved can’t see the forest thru the trees. I’ve seen numerous stage products and the movie and I always viewed the Revolution as the background where the story of Jean Valjean, Cosette, Marius, and Javere where framed. Not in the forefront but the background.
Apparently, Medved is so concerned with the literal that he can’t see the true storyline. That of redemption, love, and sacrifice. Too bad, he missed a great film.
The end actually makes no sense, since it seems to be about reward in the afterlife, but then all the dead people are still on this side of the barricade, so what the heck? Anyway, it expects you to root for the revolutionaries, obviously, but moreso for Valjean himself, who is something else.
The Establishmedia’s job is to promote communism. They have no other reason for existence.
Happy New Year
I’ve always viewed Hugo’s story as the ultimate struggle between law and grace. Valjean was shown mercy and grace by the priest and it affected his entire life. Javert was “the law” who could not show any mercy, and when he finally did, he saw it as breaking his own code and had to commit suicide.
As usual, my only gripe with the movie and the play is they didn’t stick stick close enough to the book, or left out what I would consider important parts, and IMO. misconstrued a theme or two that Hugo was trying to convey they flubbed on. But that’s to be expected.
Every story is like that, though, unless it’s pure propaganda. Are you saying we can’t ever talk about the political aspects because every movie is really about the characters? Even when the political aspect is so obvious and in your face as with The Miserable?
As to all stories being like that, take another political novel, Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (or Demons). In it he portrays young revolutionaries and one who reflects Dostoyevsky’s actual politics who stands in his way. If it were written to make a point that’d be the hero, but he isn’t. Another character gets that honor, a former reprobate and undisputed leader of the leftist cabal who has mysteriously lost his fervor. He represents some sort of undefined New Russian Man, or rather the possibility of one.
Point is, though Dostoyevsky abandons topicality and avoids a hit piece on his favorite target of Westernized intellectuals, that is not to say the book is unpolitical. There is no mistaking his politics. The revolutionaries and those who inspire and abet them are in the wrong. It’s not only political, but that’s not to say politics is only background and doesn’t matter.
Coulter Column: French Revolution Was Godless Antithesis to Founding of American Republic
It has become fashionable to equate the French and American revolutions, but they share absolutely nothing in common beyond the word “revolution.” The American Revolution was a movement based on ideas, painstakingly argued by serious men in the process of creating what would become the freest, most prosperous nation in world history.
The French Revolution was a revolt of the mob. It was the primogenitor of the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler’s Nazi Party, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s slaughter, and America’s periodic mob uprisings from Shays’ Rebellion to today’s dirty waifs in the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd.
The French Revolution is the godless antithesis to the founding of America.
One rather important difference is that Americans did win freedom and greater individual rights with their revolution, creating a republic. France’s revolution consisted of pointless, bestial savagery, followed by Napoleon’s dictatorship, followed by another monarchy, and then finally something resembling an actual republic 80 years later.
Both revolutions are said to have come from the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers, the French Revolution informed by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the American Revolution influenced by the writings of John Locke. This is like saying presidents Reagan and Obama both drew on the ideas of 20th-century economists — Reagan on the writings of Milton Friedman and Obama on the writings of Paul Krugman.
Locke was concerned with private property rights. His idea was that the government should allow men to protect their property in courts of law, in lieu of each man being his own judge and police force. Rousseau saw the government as the vessel to implement the “general will” and to create more moral men. Through the unchecked power of the state, the government would “force men to be free.”
As historian Roger Hancock summarized the theories of the French revolutionaries, they had no respect for humanity “except that which they proposed to create. In order to liberate mankind from tradition, the revolutionaries were ready to make him altogether the creature of a new society, to reconstruct his very humanity to meet the demands of the general will.”
Contrary to the purblind assertions of liberals, who dearly wish our Founding Fathers were more like the godless French peasants, skipping around with human heads on pikes, our Founding Fathers were God-fearing descendants of Puritans and other colonial Christians.
As Steven Waldman writes in his definitive book on the subject, “Founding Faith,” the American Revolution was “powerfully shaped by the Great Awakening,” an evangelical revival in the colonies in the early 1700s that was led by the famous Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, among others. Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States, was Edwards’ grandson.
There are books of Christian sermons encouraging the American Revolution. Indeed, it was the very irreligiousness of the French Revolution that would later appall sensible Americans and British alike, even before the bloodletting began.
Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, the date our written demand for independence from Britain based on “Nature’s God” was released to the world.
The French celebrate Bastille Day, a day when a thousand armed Parisians stormed the Bastille, savagely murdered a half-dozen guards, defaced their corpses and stuck their heads on pikes — all in order to seize arms and gunpowder for more such tumults. It would be as if this country had a national holiday to celebrate the L.A. riots.
Among the most famous quotes from the American Revolution is Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Among the most famous slogans of the French Revolution is that of the Jacobin Club, “Fraternity or death,” recast by Nicolas-Sebastien de Chamfort, a satirist of the revolution, as “Be my brother or I’ll kill you.”
Our revolutionary symbol is the Liberty Bell, first rung to herald the opening of the new Continental Congress in the wake of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and rung again to summon the citizens of Philadelphia to a public reading of the just-adopted Declaration of Independence.
The symbol of the French Revolution is the “National Razor” — the guillotine.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all died of natural causes in old age, with the exception of Button Gwinnett of Georgia, who was shot in a duel unrelated to the revolution.
Of all our Founding Fathers, only one other died of unnatural causes: Alexander Hamilton. He died in a duel with Aaron Burr because as a Christian, Hamilton deemed it a greater sin to kill another man than to be killed. Before the duel, in writing, Hamilton vowed not to shoot Burr.
President after president of the new American republic died peacefully at home for 75 years, right up until Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the French Revolution all died violently, guillotine by guillotine.
The Fourth of July also marks the death of two of our greatest Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who died on the same day, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
We made it for nearly another 200 years, before the Democrats decided to jettison freedom and make us French.
Exactly. The characters in the final scene are all dead looking toward their heavenly utopia, not supporting revolution on earth. The lyrics explicitly state:
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
The emphasis is mine. Medhved makes the mistake often made, that somehow Hugo is celebrating the revolutionaries. Hint: They all died and nothing changed. The song "Turning" emphasizes that nothing changes.
Change came only for Valjean, and it came by way of the Cross as offered by the Bishop of Digne. The Cross is the only true agent of change. It was a huge difference between revolutionary America and revolutionary France, and it helped America achieve over 250 years of a justice the world only dreams of. Without the Cross, all France got was a bloody mess.
Literally! (With apologies to Joe Biden.)
Same here. And, that they'd at least taken a stand against oppression.
No, I am not saying that. What I was saying is the revolution is used as a backdrop for the characters, much as our revolution was used in The Patriot. While there is an intermingling of how one impacts the other, the story could use just about any period in history and the interaction between the characters would be the same.
I just thought Medved was letting the Revolution become the primary focus rather than the characters. The story of Valjean’ s redemption , duty, (his inner conflict when the innocent is arrested) and his raising of the child of one who he wronged is the theme. The conflict of Marius ‘ new found love or his friends ...”do I stay or do I go...” Is secondary.
I guess I didn’t think that every movie had to be looked at in the political sense as some are suggesting. If that is true, then Annie would be a good case for the Democrats position of screwing the 2%.
My three favorite parts of the book are the beginning with the Archbishop, the account of the battle of Waterloo, and the sewers of Paris. Hugo’s essays on 18th and 19th century politics are tedious and boring to anyone other than a doctorate level history student of those periods of time. I found Marias to be a total prig. Hated the man. Cosette was pretty much a non-entity. Jean ValJean, Javert, and Thenardier were all three amazing character studies. In the book Thenardier was a very dark and evil character but in the musical (and I assume in the movie haven’t seen it yet) he and his wife provide wonderful comic relieve. Alun Armstrong will always be my image of Thenardier.
One more thing, the movie is based on the musical which was loosely based on the book. It (the musical play) was not a literal attempt to portray Hugo’s book. But rather used the book as a framework on which the musical could be built.
Les Miserables is not about the French Revolution. It starts just after the Napoleonic era ends.
I know it’s not about the French Revolution, but Medved mentions French revolutionary history in general in his piece so I thought the Coulter article would be relevant.
I’ve read the unabridged book, with the sewer chapter and Waterloo ..4 times.
It’s one of my favorite novels, right next to David Copperfield.
I always thought that Hugo was attempting to explain why the French Revolution happened and I must admit, even back then in the 1980s, I didn’t buy into that part of the story. Granted, you found a great deal of inequality in French society in the 1700s... I have been hoping that in the movie, they don’t try to sell a big fat “things should be more equal” message in this movie.. I plan on seeing this movie on this coming Saturday. Looking forward to it.
Have not seen any production of Le Mis. I decided to read the book. I am enjoying it very much, although I am still in the beginning. Thanks for your remarks.