Sunday, January 27, 2013


As a weekend treat I decided to watch Les Miserables and see what all the fuss was all about. I was planning to watch it on the big screen but I’m sure the Spanish subtitles would ruin it for me, and so I had it through more unorthodox means (I’m sure don Javier Sesé would not approve, though I perfectly get his point that great movies ought to be seen in their original form, never through pirated copies. But some copies are as good as the original. I’m digressing).

The film adaptation of the musical was simply powerful. Everything was well-done, from the costumes, the cinematography, to the acting an the singing, and down to the meaning behind the movie. With this, I think I had just stated how one could judge the quality of a movie. It’s like a good glass of wine: you start evaluating it from that which is most evident (color, scent, taste, aftertaste). A good movie, like good wine, is certainly something to be enjoyed, starting from that which immediately appeals to the senses: the costumes, the colors, the shots (which are some important cinematographic elements), and then the acting, and finally, very much like an  aftertaste, the sense of it all. Some people like to watch movies that make them think less. The more senseless it is, the better (which is not bad if you’re not in the mood to think much, like, say, after an exam or after some really arduous intellectual exercise. For times like these, a good martial arts movie is recommendable: you don’t understand much of the dialogues, but the fight sequences simply rock). But a good movie always make you think afterwards; a really good movie makes you want to write down what you think of it.
I never knew that Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman could sing well. Eddie Redmayne was a revelation; I saw him in Pillars of the Earth and I never suspected that he could sing really well. Russell Crow gave me the sensation that I was hearing him sing from the shower (no offense). Helena Bonham Carter was as she always was: superb (the other day I was watching the movie in which she first appeared, Room with a view, [1985] which is delectable). Colm Wilkinson gave a good performance as the Bishop who pardoned Jean Valjean and ushered him into a new life.

Aside from these things, the merit of the production is also in the message that it conveyed. The  1998 movie version (which starred Liam Neeson and the unforgettable Goeffrey Rush) was good enough in giving out the message about forgiveness and salvation, but this recent version of Victor Hugo´s masterpiece was even more powerful in its rendition on the message.

I think that the power of the production lies as well in its message: the power of forgiveness, on that is based on the discovery of the person’s worth, a discovery that is only possible if such a discovery is based on love. Basically, as the scene of Valjean inside the church (soon after the theft of the Bishop’s silver and his forgiveness by the same), we could say that forgiveness consists in telling one that he has a soul to be saved. “He told me that I had a soul”, Valjean says in his monologue. The realization of the fact that there is more to me than flesh and blood, that I am valued also because of that touch of the divine that I have within me, is one powerful reason why I, as a person, need to open myself to the power of forgiveness. It is only in forgiving and in the experience of being forgiven that the gates of salvation are held wide open for us.

For Valjean, at least, this is what happens. The Bishop was instrumental in Valjean being able to see the loving face of God. The perception of God is another theme in this movie.  This is perceived in the personal story of Fantine and of Javert. Javert, a man hardened by the his experience of life, and who would be invoking God in his mission to promote hard justice in his police work, saw God as pure justice (something which would remind me of another figure, historical this time: Martin Luther). In a similar way, touched by misfortune and the exploitative cruelty of the reality of her life, Fantine would sing “I dreamed that God would be forgiving”. These were the words which actually made tears roll down my cheeks (yes, there were times that the screen blurred up a bit for me when I watched the movie), and made me think. Hard times, bad experiences would have a hand in making us come up with a blurred image of God, but most of the time, men are at fault in discrediting God before others. We may be sometimes at fault, because, in coming up with a God fashioned out of our own narrow and vengeful image and likeness, we rob people of the chance to approach the doors of salvation. The tears of Fantine (who later discovers that God was forgiving after all, thanks to the selfless love of Valjean) and the hardness of Javert (who could not believe that forgiveness was possible, even when it was offered to him) bring home to us a lesson: one cannot call himself a child of God if he does not know how to forgive, nor ask for forgiveness. As he lay dying, Valjean’s last words were these: “forgive me of my trespasses, and bring me to your glory”. God cannot be separated from the fact that he forgives. When a person forgives, he shows himself a worthy child of his Father in heaven. God is a God who forgives!

And because God forgives, he saves. Salvation is another great theme. It is shown in how the forgiveness shown by the Bishop to Valjean opens something up in the latter: the door to change. When evil enters a person’s heart, it closes it. Bitterness takes up residence in it, later to be joined by despair of ever being saved. But forgiveness opens the heart that has been immersed in evil and despair (provided that the heart lets itself be touched), and sets it on the first step to salvation: change. This transformation has love as its touchstone, and this is not surprising, because the prime motor of forgiveness is love itself. When Valjean finds himself forgiven, he finds himself capable of loving others as well. In doing so, he becomes instrumental in their own salvation. In this work of salvation, the figure of the Bishop is key. This was one thing I appreciated in the production. Aren’t we just tired of seeing the Church and her pastors in a bad light? Here we see a man of God actually being a man of God, somebody who touches hearts, opening them, and allowing the grace of God enter them. Here is a man of God—a bishop—who preaches forgiveness while not afraid of condemning the evil of sin, sin which is something better left behind:  “There’s a bed to rest till morning, rest from pain, and rest from wrong”, the Bishop says, inviting the escaped parolee to accept what this servant of God had to share.

Finally, this salvation is one that leads to freedom. The last scene is just stunning, because of the significance that it houses. After a life of trying to counter hatred with love, and with the generous sacrifice that it entails, Valjean finally dies, realizing that in loving, one sees the face of God. We are led to realize that love is the first step towards the ultimate freedom that we hope to get in the end. We realize that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to love, a freedom that only God can give. This is a freedom that matures in heaven, in God’s embrace. Chains and the threats of evil cannot imperil this freedom based on love, and so in the end, one has the sensation that Valjean, in his struggle to love and be loved, was free all along. This love that comes from God and shines in the midst of the darkness of this life, as it is enshrined in the heart that has experienced divine pardon—and forgives in return—will see the dawn of a day that never ends, as the words of the final song suggests: “Even the darkest night will end when the sun will rise”. Love will always allow us to look on with eyes filled with hope to the ultimate accomplishment of this freedom.

Forgiveness. Salvation. Freedom. Hope. Love. Like a good glass of wine, these are the things that made me left thinking deep, and have left me with a good hangover. Not only has the movie brought out the best in me as a writer at this point (it has allowed me to express myself in more than 1,500 words), but it has also helped me enter deeply in conversation with God, one who always makes us remember the truth that once was spoken: “to love and love a person is to see the face of God”.

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