Thoughts on Les Miserables

Last night I went to see Les Miserables. I really liked it. It was very powerful. I have seen Les Miserables on Broadway in New York and at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I liked the movie the most. I just wanted to share some thoughts about the film and the themes that stood out to me the most about the story.

Conflicting desires/motives.
Having conflicting desires is part of the human experience. We have all felt the inner struggle of having to choose between difficult options. Our decisions in those moments define who we are. The song "Who Am I?" sung by Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) amazingly expresses this aspect of the human experience. Valjean had to choose between being condemned by man (to physical prison) or be damned by God (to a spiritual prison). If he choose to be condemned by man, he would free an innocent person (who was mistakenly thought to be Jean Valjean), but he might in turn condemn all the factory workers who relied on him for work. If he choose to let the innocent man suffer in his place, then he would be damned of God, but he would be free from the condemnation of man's punishment. As he is struggling with this choice, he reminds himself of the promise He made to God that he would serve God. Valjean reminds himself that he is the type of man who must keep his promise. His promise gave him a reason to act that was independent of his immediate desires. It is amazing to me how much Victor Hugo and the writers of the music understand human nature.

Dealing with reality
 
Les Miserables shows how people deal with reality in different ways. The young Cosette tried to evade the reality of her situation by escaping into her imagination (Castle in the clouds). Because she is so young, I think the audience would encourage her escape into her imagination as a means of dealing with reality. I think that we encourage this imagination about Santa Claus for similar reasons (not to escape reality, but to enhance it). I contrast this with Eponine who knows that Marius doesn't love her (romantically), but she uses her imagination to escape reality by pretending that Marius loves her (On My Own). This contrast raises an interesting question: Why is it ok for children to use their imagination in this way, but not so ok for adults to use their imagination in this way?

Some people deal with reality by descending into the basest of wants and desires. The Thenardiers were corrupt and they tried to corrupt anything else that was pure. This is somewhat humorously and disgustingly depicted in the movie when Monsieur Thenardier takes a Santa Claus—a symbol of peace and purity—from the street and corrupts him by exposing him to iniquity. The Thenardiers are the opposite of Jean Valjean. While Jean Valjean would act based on a desire-independent reasons such as his promise to God, the Thenardiers would only act on desire-dependent reasons. On a side note, I thought that Sasha Baron Cohen (who also played as Borat and Ali G) and Helena Bonham Carter were cast perfectly as the Thenadiers.

Sometimes people feel they can't deal with reality when reality doesn't conform to their strict vision of it. The psychological anguish that Javere experienced when Jean Valjean showed him that his vision of the world was false caused Javere to kill himself. Javere preferred his false vision of the world to the actual world. I have encountered people who share this preference. I once asked a Ron Paul supporter what he would choose if he had to choose between living a world that will always have some government coercion or dying. Without hesitation he replied that he would prefer death.

Anne Hathaway
 
I thought that Anne Hathaway was absolutely brilliant. It was as if every muscles of her face and every breath was choreographed perfectly in the song (Dreamed a Dream). I was just in awe at her pure talent and raw performance. She should win Best Supporting Actress.

Revolutionaries look for injustices
 
Injustice lights the fire of revolution. Sometimes revolutionaries are waiting for an injustice to happen. The revolutionaries have reasons for asking for trouble. One reason to do this is to cause the authorities to commit an injustice so that they can use that injustice to cause people to stop collectively acknowledging the authority of those in power. The death of an innocent woman in the mob and the death of Gavrosh (the young boy) and Eponine stirred the revolutionaries to keep fighting for their cause.

Last year some occupy wall-street protestors at UC Davis similarly engaged in unlawful activity to provoke injustice. It was a "peaceful protest" since the protestors weren't violent, but they did use force by locking arms and protesting on private property. The police were ordered to break up the protest. They did it in perhaps the most peaceful way possible—they used pepper spray. This was painted as an "injustice" by the occupiers who wanted to undermine the authorities. The organizers wanted that to happen to legitimize their cause. It is important to discern between legitimate injustices and manufactured injustices when judging those with revolutionary intent. Also, sometimes legitimate injustices can be used for illegitimate means. (the response to the recent mass shootings comes to mind)

Emotion
 
The performance in the movie was very emotional. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. In one sense, I think that good art should not force emotion. It should be an offering to engage with the art. It should allow the freedom to choose our own emotions and empower us to use our emotions to participate with the art. But in another sense I like to feel those emotions and I want to those emotions to be impressed upon me. I seek after those emotion-provoking things for the same reasons that I choose to ride on rollercoasters. Perhaps one reason that I like those emotions to be impressed upon me is because it reflects back on my emotional faculties. Participating in those emotions confirms to ourselves that we are human. It is like we are a thermometer being exposed to extreme ranges of temperature and knowing that we work correctly. So I liked that the movie was so emotional and that it yanked the tears out of my head, but I am also suspicious of whether this is a good thing. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.