I read a snatch of review: “there will always be people who like overblown emotion,” smug critic said. I kept replaying his words in my mind as I watched (and yes, I cried like a baby. Don’t judge me.) Listen, I understand that sentimental drivel appears on the scene way too frequently, but that is altogether different than gut-level emotion — passion, grief, joy. Why are we so afraid to feel?
This movie is crazy awesome on so many levels — incredible characters, at least 4 intermeshed plots, beautiful music, hilarious sideshows, unvarnished horror alongside of shining grace — and in the midst of all that the cast and crew were trying to do, they make us feel. Jean Valjean has to be a criminal, must be a criminal, can’t possibly escape his past — and yet, here he is, heroic, transformed by grace. (Of course, that couldn’t be possible, Smug Critic would say. No one changes. There is no grace.) Fantine is any young girl we know, backed into a corner, slammed to the mucky floor by unforgiving, cruel fate. She is the face of 10,000 girls enslaved right now at this very moment, and as we feel her agony, we understand, and we are made to care. Poor Eponine, loving and forever unloved, willing to give her life for another — we see, and the sacrificial love blows us away. And the boys, the countless boys who rise up for freedom, for justice, whose blood runs in the streets, for what? How many mothers spent Christmas bereft because of sons and daughters killed in war?
Poor Smug Critic, never to feel.
Les Mis is at bottom, a love story: the love of God for a lost soul and the pay-it-forward chain of events that fly into motion as a result. It is grand, epic, because Love is epic. If it doesn’t rip your heart out to realize you are a beggar and a thief impossibly, lavishly, ridiculously loved, then like Javert you have chosen a cold, hard, tit-for-tat ethic in its place. And consider how things turned out for him.