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Les Misérables (2012)

Though struggle, heartbreak and struggle are definitely prevalent from start to finish in the film, for me, it is love that is the overarching theme, the salvation and redemption, and sometimes pain, sacrifice and ruin, of love. Nearly every pivotal choice within the film is motivated by love, of one kind or the other, except for the through-line battle between Jean Valjean and Javert, who were in constant odds over what was right and just and true. So, perhaps instead of a story about misery, one could take the tale, and the film, as a story of love and honor, and in many ways, of redemption.

As a self-proclaimed musical theater geek, and an ex-theater arts major, I was delighted when I first heard about this film. I was excited to see it from the moment of the first trailer, and was thrilled with the cast choices – Hugh Jackman has been a favorite actor of mine for some time now, and I have always loved Anne Hathaway. I could not wait to see the film, and though I did not rush out and see it right on Christmas Day, I made plans with my two daughters to see it on New Year’s Eve. It seemed to me to be the perfect way to end the year, and the perfect film choice to be the last film seen for the year. Admittedly, my expectations were high, and not for a moment was I let down, not even in the slightest. The film was brilliantly, and heartbreakingly, amazing.

One of the most moving and effective choices that were made with this film was the decision to have all of the actors sing while being shot on film, and not be filmed lip-synching previously in-studio recorded songs. This decision made every word sung be conveyed emotionally and with a feeling of immediacy, as if one was seeing a live production. The close-ups of the actors themselves, so unbelievably close, was so intense and intimate, and at times so raw and personal that it was difficult to take in, was also a brilliant directorial decision. In moments like Fantine’s song, I Dreamed a Dream, the close shots were so moving, and so incredibly emotional, in a way that could not be conveyed on a stage. Her portrayal of Fantine broke my heart in that song, a musical moment that was one of those moments actor’s have in their career that are unforgettable, award winning, and inspiring – moments that make me miss acting, and make me want to stand up and cheer.

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I Dreamed a Dream :: Fantine (Anne Hathaway)

Speaking of, there were many moments within the film, especially at the end of big musical numbers, where I literally had to sit on my hands to keep from applauding. I was physically relieved when at the end of the film the crowd in the movie theater did applaud, so that I could finally let myself, and my hands, explode in clapping. Perhaps this need comes from years of attending live theater, but it was nearly impossible not to cheer and clap at times. I think it was caused by an overwhelming need for a physical reaction, as the tears kept falling, over and over, and yet that did not seem enough, at times, my body seemed to demand more reaction.

The character of Cosette, though my oldest daughter found her the least interesting, I would counter by saying that she was the story’s major plot device, and the incarnation of love within the film. All but one major character was influenced by Cosette. Fantine’s sacrifice, which took from her everything – her dignity, her health, her life itself – all given for her love for her daughter, Cosette. For Jean Valjean, Cosette and his love for her, gifted him redemption and life, and hope. She became his family, and his reason to live another day. His love for Cosette, as she grew up, was what ultimately saved Marius’ life, as he went through the sewers, nearly drowning, to save his life for Cosette, and her love of Marius, and Marius’ love for her. Even Eponine’s love of Marius, and his love for Cosette, is integral into her choices, her sacrifices, her motivations to keep Cosette’s letter from Marius, and her ultimate sacrifice for Marius (and later, the return of the letter, as she lies dying in his arms).

Speaking of Eponine, the way the character was portrayed so beautifully by Samantha Barks, a young actor who I was first introduced to in the BBC reality show with Andrew Lloyd Webber casting a new production of Oliver, was one of the first times, at least for me, that she became so real and vital a character in the story. She broke my heart, as well, and though I wanted more for her (but then again, what character do I not want more for in this story?), I thought Samantha Barks brought such heart and life, vulnerability and pain, to the character of Eponine.

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On My Own :: Eponine (Samantha Barks)

The revolutionaries, and the battle, or massacre, at the blockade, nearly destroyed me emotionally. When the young boy Gavroche is shot and dies, and when Enjolras falls dead from the window, I was a mess of tears. And later, when Marius returned to the room of the last battle, where he had met with the revolutionaries to rally, and he sang of them being gone, was heart-wrenching. I will agree with my oldest daughter, that seeing him later at the fancy wedding party with Cosette as his new bride was hard to take, not because of their marriage, as we both were happy to see them together in love, but because they stood amongst the riches and wealth that had been what he had been fighting against, fighting for life and equality and hope.

At the end, after Jean Valjean’s death, when we see everyone in the city atop an enormous blockade, and we see so many that had died up there singing, I found myself longing to see Marius and Cosette leading the singing, as if to show that as they are living on they would continue the fight. But, for me, that ending scene was a kind of heaven, a kind of love as the face of God, for Jean Valjean, as Fantine lead him away from his life. Though, my oldest says the scene, for her, was meant to be taken as a continued fighting, that the people finally did join in to help in the battle, as we had all wanted them to do in that tragic massacre of the revolutionaries, at the much smaller blockade. I do not agree, though, I think it was what we were to take as Jean Valjean’s heaven.

In closing, I would be neglectful to not say what an amazing and brilliant performance that Hugh Jackman gave as Jean Valjean, from the first sight of him as the convict, to that first confrontation with Javert, also brilliantly portrayed by Russell Crowe (a surprise for me, as I did not expect to enjoy him in this role), to his song about falling in love with Cosette and becoming a father, both knowing love for the first time, in Suddenly, was inspiring and just wonderful. Watching Jean Valjean learn to love, learn to be a free man, and learn to forgive himself and find redemption, and do what was right in life, was so life-affirming to me, and so meaningful.

Suddenly :: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)

There is more to say, more to mull over, more to feel, but for now this is a summary of what moved me in the film. I do wish to see it once more in the theater, on the big screen, and most likely many more times when I have the opportunity to own an at-home copy. It was an incredible experience, one that will be with me for a long time to come.

Trailer

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