SET in the 19th century French Restoration period, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables has gone a long way from the critically acclaimed novel released in 1862 to the world’s longest running musical. Now a major motion picture, director Tom Hooper’s (“The King’s Speech”) version of the novel has produced mixed reactions from both the critics and the audiences worldwide with his star-studded cast, wonderfully portraying the story of broken dreams, faith, love, and sacrifice. Hooper’s controversial style of live singing enabled the actors to provide a heart-wrenching sense of reality to the film. That, combined with close-up shots in exactly the most precious and perfect moments, certainly toyed with the emotions of viewers.
In all its glory, the movie revolved around the idea of faith. Through the misfortunes of the characters, it was faith that gave light in their life. Hooper’s emphasis on the value of Christianity to Jean Valjean, his initial hate towards his society turning into compassion, sent a moral lesson with an impact of such intensity: that even a man who had practically lost his life was able to gain redemption through Christian love and forgiveness.
Hugh Jackman, a theatre veteran, brought to life this former convict who broke parole to have a fresh start. His improvisation for “What Have I Done?” and “Who Am I?” showed an inner turmoil and a strong sense of conscience, testament of his determination of keeping his promise of “becoming an honest man.” How one deed changes the heart of another was demonstrated repeatedly, beginning from Valjean’s blessing to forgiving Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) amidst all attempts of bringing Valjean back to the hell he once knew. Each forgiveness constantly gave way to a better future.
The political setting greatly influenced the lives of the characters. At a time when an uprising was inevitable due to the growing displeasure of the lower social class in France, the King’s military was relentless in capturing fugitives and eliminating rebels. The widespread poverty pushed much of the French citizens beyond their rightful morals as what happened with Jean Valjean, Fantine and the Thenardiers. Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne), born to a wealthy family, chose to live poorly because of his political views most likely influenced by his deceased father and his close friends, Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), Combeferre (Killian Donnelly), Courfeyrac (Fra Fee), Grantaire (George Blagden), and many more. They plotted their uprising at the funeral of General LaMarque who was from Napoleon Bonaparte’s regime and the only remaining popular figure supporting human rights and opposing the constitutional monarchy in France at the time. His death fueled the spirits of the French people to defend their freedom, chanting “Do You Hear the People Sing?” every now and then from the middle to the end of the film.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine was remarkable, bringing people to tears with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” the single, factory-working mother turned prostitute for young Cosette (portrayed by the lovely Isabelle Allen). The imperfections in her singing complimented the song extremely well. Hathaway’s display of raw emotions kept one completely focused on her face, sharing Fantine’s pain and shame. Despite having a supporting role, Anne as Fantine gave depth to the character as compared to the Fantine in the musical production, who was simply a martyr. She gave a strong-willed, independent woman sacrificing all, even her own rightful morals, to provide for her dear Cosette.
Nothing but a dose of young love could symbolize innocence and new hope better. Nine years after Valjean’s adoption of Fantine’s beloved daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), a young lady already by that time, and Marius were the more blessed of the bunch. In particular scenes, these two lovers seemed lost in their own bubble of happiness, oblivious to the people around them, ignorant to the feelings of Eponine (Samantha Barks). Their love triangle reaches out to the younger generation with “A Heart Full of Love.” It was a beautiful blend of the actors’ voices, ranging from Seyfried’s soprano to Redmayne’s bass baritone voice. But not even the bliss of love at first sight could contest to Eponine’s tragic, unrequited love for Marius sung out in “On My Own.” Something about Eponine singing and crying in the rain established the stereotypic atmosphere of the heartbroken. Barks won the hearts of many with her vocal prowess.
Several notable characters had minor roles in the film but nevertheless were essential in weaving together the whole story. The Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter), no matter how silly and opportunists they were, the film would just be too intense without their mild humor. The original Jean Valjean from the musical, Colm Wilkinson, was given the role of the Bishop Myriel of Digne, who was the first to change the life of Jean Valjean.
Tom Hooper did an incredible job of modifying the original novel into a true motion picture spectacle. The scoring was impeccable. The acting was worth of the Oscars. The imperfections of the film with regards to the cinematography and the actors’ singing gave more beauty to it. Hooper’s approach was excellent, providing a refreshing look to the 1862 Hugo novel.
Les Misérables will surely give you an experience. Witness the suffering, sacrifice, and the toils of the victims of a cruel society in 19th century France in all its musical glory will tug at your heartstrings and remain in your heart forever.
By Jamille Carina D. Ong
Les Misérebles poster © 2012 Universal Studios