“To love another person is to see the face of God” is one of the most powerful lyrics that resonate from watching the latest Les Misérables. Being a musical theatre lover all of my life, I was highly anticipating the release of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd.’s production filled with a star studded cast. Having seen the Broadway production ten years prior, one might say I was a fan already, but what happened to me during the 157 minutes in the movie theater made me very proud to be a Catholic where God’s unconditional forgiveness is infinite.
Victor Hugo’s masterpiece novel has successfully reached many audiences through his written work as well as many theatre and motion picture audiences. The musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer under the direction of Tom Hooper highlight many Catholic themes present in this historical French story.
The overwhelming theme of forgiveness and redemption I felt at this viewing of Les Misérables reminds me of the The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18. “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt 18:21-22). This is poignantly seen between the Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) character and the Bishop Bienvenu (Colm Wilkinson) who is the first person to show him kindness after his 19 years of prison. Even after this compassion, Valjean steals silver from the Bishop and is arrested, but again, the Bishop forgives and shows love and compassion for him and tells the authorities he gave Valjean the silver. This short scene between the Bishop and Valjean encapsulates this theme of forgiveness, love, compassion 7 times and 77 times over.
Other Catholic reviewers are split. Anita Crane of Catholic Lane said in her title that the movie experience “provokes mixed emotions in a Catholic viewer” from the musical being “mediocre” to the film makers “exploiting characters” and yet later shares that “In my heart of hearts, I hope it [the movie] inspires people to love God and care for orphans.” Where Joseph McAleer of Catholic Review, promotes the film stating that, “this faithful adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, which was transformed into a worldwide stage sensation by impresario Cameron Mackintosh, is a deeply moral story. Characters rise and fall calling on God for grace and mercy, seeking personal redemption while trying to better the lives of others.” Both very interesting and different Catholic perspectives on the film worth reading.
They and I agree it is not really appropriate to bring your children 13 and under due to the suggestive sexual content, violence and adult themes. However, what Catholic themes came to mind for you? What is your review of Les Misérables? Did you feel the “Fight,” the “Dream,” the “Hope,” or the “Love,” the movie poster suggests?
This film reminded me of how utterly blessed I am to be forgiven by God in spite of and despite my sins. With this gratitude, I too try to forgive like the Bishop forgives Valjean in his sin of desperation.