Les Miserables – A defense

Les Miserables

I’ve just watched Les Miserables, the movie for the third time in theater. And for all three times, I paid for my ticket, and whoever was with me to watch it. My close ones know how frugal I am (and how I enjoy being so), so this fact already states in itself how AWESOME the movie is. Plus, I wouldn’t care watching it a fourth time or a fifth, although I’m not sure if I would still be willing to pay for two tickets. But I would definitely pay for mine.
Why is the movie so great? OK, what ISN’T great about this movie?
Talented actors? Check. Beautiful songs? Check. Mesmerizing singing? Check. Captivating delivery of emotions? Check.
I really wouldn’t know where to begin.
So for all the haters out there who have this and that to say about this great movie, here goes.

The movie is based on a musical. The appearance of Colm Wilkinson, one of the musical actors who interpreted Valjean on numerous occasions, including the 10th anniversary concert, was clearly a tribute to the musical, for those who knew. The musical was created in the 1980s by Cameron Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Shonberg, and yes, although this musical found its inspiration from the original french book by Victor Hugo, I think it’s fair to say that the movie obviously left out many things from the original book. The story of the movie had to go around the original songs from the musical and wrap its storyline along the songs, so yes, some things might have been left out, some things might have given a different interpretation, Victor Hugo’s message might not have been passed along as its readers had imagined. But once again, the movie is a cinematic adaptation of the musical, and not the book, and for that, I don’t think anyone could have done a better work.
The actors’ performance was simply amazing and beyond description, and certainly should have been immune to negative criticism. I applaud Hooper’s daring initiative to have filmed the actors with such a close angle, it can’t have been easy for anyone involved in the filming, but I’m sure the audience appreciated (I did anyways) the closest encounter they could ever had with performers. As much as I love musicals, that’s certainly something we can’t experience with on-stage musical performances, even if you get the best seat.
True, I was a little bit disappointed by Russell Crowe’s singing when I first watched it, but I absolutely loved him for the second and third time. I guess I was used to a very strong Javert performance in the musical version, with both the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts, but Russell Crowe provided his own interpretation for ‘Stars’ and it was clear that he could play a very angry Javert for some scenes, when the need arose.


After all, the movie was more about the acting than the singing. I don’t mean to say that the actors would have been condoned for a bad singing, but the whole point of the move, as I see it anyways, was to allow the viewers to feel Valjean’s relief and joy when he was finally released from prison, Fantine’s despair as she saw her dream fade away, and Marius’ sorrow at empty chairs and empty tables. It was less about the strength in their voices through all the songs, and more about the emotions behind the tunes.
And from that point of view, I think the movie accomplished a great deal.
And this is where I was going to diss Adam Lambert’s negative critique about the movie and the singing, but well, I guess if I have my own opinion, so should he, as he clearly states it in his new response.

My next response is to the article featured in -surprise, surprise- Foreign Affairs. I guess the mere fact that a movie gets so much attention as to be the object of criticism and discussion on both Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy already says a lot about what a phenomenon the movie is.
However, whereas the author in the Foreign Affairs article criticizes Hooper and his work for being anti-revolutionary, or at least disillusioned in the notion of revolution, if the former word is too harsh, I find it is totally the opposite. True, there are many religious references throughout the movie, the cross, the angels, and so on, but to his criticism against the bishop who rescued Valjean, or the setting of the convent, or Fantine returning as ‘an angel’, I would have to say, once again ‘The movie is based on the freakin’ musical’, where these all take place. I know we’re supposed to enjoy movies without making it an opportunity for more knowledge (although the nerd that I am firmly believes opportunities for more knowledge lie everywhere), but have the decency to check with some basic information.
I thought the movie delivered its message of revolution from the very beginning: “1815 – 26 years after the French Revolution, a king still rules in France” (or something like that… I don’t remember the exact quote 😦 I’ll definitely have to watch it again!). True, the literal pain I felt at these words, the exasperation at not only the failure of one of the most renowned revolutions in history, but also at the reality Korea had gone through with its presidential election, may prove that it is indeed hard to hope for great outcomes out of a revolution, and that deep inside, that’s what I think. It is also true that the movie depicts the struggle of the young revolutionaries as they try to restore democracy and are shunned by the people of Paris in their most critical moments of help (windows slowly closing, doors kept shut as they are shot to death), and in the end, it is Marius, the son of a noble family, who is left as the sole survivor and gives a heartbreaking delivery of ‘Empty chairs at empty tables’. But in my defense and in the defense of the movie, there could not have been another ending to the Revolution of 1832 because it was a historic failure and Hugo or Hooper couldn’t possibly have come up with another end to the story. So, really, it’s not Hooper’s fault they all had to die.
However, it was his doing that portrayed the strength, passion and unfailing belief in ‘France’ as they died one by one, it was his doing that made Gavroche sing ‘Do you hear the people sing’ as they seemed to be losing hope, and it was his doing once again that brought back the dead to singing the anthem at the end of the movie, with not just happy but triumphant faces, as they were circled by what appeared thousands of others following their cause. And to me, that is proof that revolution does work and can bring hope. Sure, it may take decades, perhaps centuries, like France. Sure, people will die, lives will be crushed and sacrifices will be asked, but it won’t be all for nothing. And the tears that the movie brings out of its viewers, the sigh that we all let out at the end, these are proofs that while we may be disappointed by the lack of speed and immediate results of a revolution, we still believe they count for something.
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes, whether it is for the Arab countries having gone through their revolution, whether it is for Korea that decided to pass on their decade-long struggle for democracy, political participation and justice this time.
And well, if Mr. Charles Walton fails to see that, well, too bad. What would be the use of a Revolution if it did not allow a difference of opinions after all?
And on that note, because I just can’t get enough of it, and because it’s my blog, and because I’m obsessed like that, I’ll end it with this formidable rendition of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ by Michael Ball at the 10th anniversary concert. (Nick Jonas should be ASHAMED, seriously).

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