SPOILER ALERT – Don’t read this if you don’t want to know any plot details of the film.
I’ve just been to see Les Miserables, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a film before in my life. I got home over an hour ago, it’s past midnight, I’ve got to get up early, and yet I’m sitting here writing this because I just can’t stop thinking about it. I think it resonated so much with me because of all of the Christian imagery and themes running through it, it is a rare thing to see a film that captures so many aspects of my faith.
Firstly, there is the transformation of Jean Valjean; he has stolen silver from a priest who had given him food and shelter, but instead of seeking to punish him, the priest shows Valjean mercy by denying the charges against him, telling the police that the silver was a gift. Not only does he forgive him, he also insists that Jean Valjean takes more silver – two candlesticks that are worth far more. This over-the-top gift reminded me of my own salvation; not only did God forgive me when I didn’t deserve to be forgiven, but he has also given me the extravagant free gift of a life spent in relationship with him, learning more every day about the wonders of his love. It is the extravagant gift of the silver that inspires Jean Valjean to turn his life around and start afresh. In awe of the grace he receives, he makes it his mission to show that grace to others.
Then there is the contrast between Jean Valjean and Javert, which so obviously echoes the issue of grace vs legalism – a continual theme in the New Testament of the Bible. Javert cannot see that Valjean is a changed man, nor does he believe that people can ever change, he is unsympathetic to the plight of other characters in the film, and relentlessly pursues Jean Valjean in the belief that he deserves to be punished. On the other hand Jean Valjean knows that he is a new man, and that people are more than the situation that they find themselves in. He shows compassion to everyone that he comes across, even Javert, who would never consider showing him any such mercy. Legalism is trying to please God, or reach his standard, by following the law or by your own good deeds. Like Javert, it has no grace for anyone who falls short of this. But the bible says that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”, but “all who believe (will receive) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ… For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20-24) The bible makes it very clear that in Jesus everyone’s slates are wiped completely clean, and that nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.”(Romans 8:39)
Another scene that really struck a chord with me was little Cosette, wandering in the woods at night time, alone and frightened, until she is rescued by Jean Valjean. He adopts her and becomes the loving “Papa” she’s always dreamed of. Cosette in the woods reminds me so much of myself before I came to know God; lost and lonely, uncertain about the future, and wondering if there really was any point to my life, wishing for something more. But now I have been adopted as God’s child, I know him as my Father. He is my protector when I am afraid, my comforter when I am sad, and my reassurance for the future. He has made my life meaningful. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to rest in the love of my heavenly father.
Finally I would like to share this quote from Mike Cosner, of the Gospel Coalition:
“This story resonates for two reasons. First, the audience can identify with a world of tragedy and disappointment. We all feel that sense of grinding sorrow, and wonder if there’s any hope for those who are sick, who suffer injustice, and who long to start anew. We’re all discouraged by the constant onslaught of bad news, and we dream dreams of places where hope is high, life is worth living, and God is merciful.
Second, Les Miserable answers those doubts with hope for redemption. There is a way to start afresh. There is a grace that surpasses, that sets us free from the burdens of our past, and that leads us home to God.”
The most emotional part of the film for me (although I wept throughout) is Fantine appearing to Jean Valjean at the end of his life, to reassure him that he is going to be with God. To know that she is coming from a place where she can offer those reassurances, that she has finally found peace with God, was a picture to me of the hope on which I live my life. The final song, sung by all those who have died, sums it up for me really:
Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise
They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
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 people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!