Do you remember a time when your heart was broken? When it was so broken that you believed it couldn’t be repaired? The pieces so small, that nothing could be salvaged with the human eye? The pieces merely specs of tissue and once thriving blood? Were you ever young and felt like a loss or love unreciprocated would settle into your bloodstream and never make it’s way out, even through a puncture or a gash? That you would never recover? No sutures strong enough to put you back together?
There are rare times that a musical or movie takes me back to moments where I felt like the wind was knocked out of me, but my breath would never be recaptured. There are rare times that I’m so consumed by the stage or movie screen that heads, coughs and whispers cease to exist. A musical that explodes into my soul from the minute the curtains open or the opening credits roll. I’m surrounded by its sound and story, better than if a Bose, base speaker were installed into my heart like a pacemaker or into my ears like a pumped up hearing aide.
Les Misérables echoes my past sentiment, even if only with a fraction of the actors’ pain expressed. My husband has always been a fan of Les Misérables. He’s a former musician and he knows every lyric by heart. In fact, if I asked him to play any song on the piano, I’m sure he’d do his best to play it by ear. He’s willing. Maybe P!nk and Kelly Clarkson don’t tug his heart strings, but Les Misérables is forever settled into his soul. [Spoiler warning]
I first saw a production of Les Misérables, when I was backpacking through Europe several years ago and in London. I was by myself. I bought a last minute, obstructed-view, cheap ticket to the Royal Albert Hall production and had no idea what to expect. Jean Valjean consumed me. I was enraptured by his tenacity and ability to overcome strife and complete suffering in life. He was reborn because he chose to be. He took in a child, Cosette, and sheltered her through the years. She was his redemption from the damned. I could sympathize with his emotion, but I could never fully understand it.
Before I met my husband I identified with Éponine. She made sacrifices for the one she loved, but never received anything in return. She was haunted by unrequited love. Yet, she selflessly gave her life to save the object of her affection from profound sadness. I was young and foolish. Thinking that love was only sought and found within romance, so caught up in her grand gesture.
Then, I had a child. I had my Babyface and my definition of love was forever changed. I learned that love’s magnitude is infinite.
My father always jokes when I discuss Les Misérables. He jokes that Les Misérables makes him miserable. He has never seen it. He doesn’t know that the story contains every extreme, passionate aspect of love within its characters and acts, both light and dark. Romantic Love and Unrequited Love (Cosette, Marius and Éponine), Parental Love (Jean Valjean, Fatine, Cosette, Marius), Loss of Love for Oneself (Fantine), Obsessive Love of Justice (Javert) and Love of Riches (The Thénardier’s).
At this stage in my life, I no longer relate to the character of Éponine, but I watch it with pure, maternal eyes. I shed tears for the unbridled and all-consuming parental love of Jean Valjean and Fantine.
If you are a parent, you know that it involves a love that never dies, even if the heart no longer beats. If you are a parent, you suddenly have a new set of eyes, when looking at your own child or even someone else’s. You suddenly realize the pure innocence of all youth. And, you long to keep any youth protected and safe from darkness.
For me, Les Misérables is all about protecting youth from pain and strife. Jean Valjean steals bread to save his nephew from starvation. Fantine resorts to prostitution to pay off a debt to her daughter, Cosette’s, caretakers. Jean Valjean takes Cosette in after he unknowingly wrongs Fantine. He loves her just as if she were his own flesh and blood. Jean Valjean later saves Marius to ensure his daughter, Cosette’s, happiness.
Even though the story is set in another time, it poses the questions: what would you do for the love of a child? How would you make the impossible possible to save a child? Would you give your life for the life of your child or another’s?
Because of my daughter, I can empathize with all extreme, parental scenarios. I can shed tears that match those of the suffering characters. I hold my breath in hopes that they’ll achieve their goals, no matter how many times I watch them carry out their almost hopeless ventures. I root for them like a best friend would.
The movie allowed me dive into the screen with many of the main characters. Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean carried me into the 1800s with his ferocity and near-perfect pitch. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine gave me chills for the few minutes she graced the screen. If someone were to look close enough, they could still see the tracks of my tears from her heart-wrenching solo. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, The Thénardier’s, gave me some time to exhale and laugh out loud. Samantha Barks’ Éponine made me dive back into first love lost and the shards from a once broken heart that I still carry around with me.
The problem: every time I fell into a track and into the screen, walking on cobblestones and feeling soaked by the rain, I was woken by Russell Crowe’s Javert. His voice was decent, but his anger never fully surfaced. It made me snap out of the world I was carried into and put me right back into my theater seat. Eddie Redmayne’s Marius must have swallowed Kermit because he had a frog in his throat at times.
The rest of the characters were good, but not great. The movie was very good, but I feel these characters kept it from being truly great. Maybe I am biased, having seen so many theater productions of Les Misérables with better lead selections.
The cinematography was perfect. Mixed with the soundtrack, it rivaled 3D IMAX. My mind provided the virtual reality.
Suddenly, written by the original composers of the musical, was a wonderful addition to the soundtrack. If you’re a parent, you will shed a tear or two for Jean Valjean’s new love and wonder.
I would recommend Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables to anyone who feels true love and passion for a child or children. Make sure you carry Kleenex with you, though. I can assure you that you’ll need it. I can assure you that each piece will be soaked by some part of the movie. You may even rush home to purchase the soundtrack and set it on repeat for the rest of the night or even the week.