Run, don’t walk, to see Les Miserables

By Tom Quiner

You are a scumbag.

Me too.

Forgive my jarring argot, but “scumbag” is a more modern way of calling you and me a sinner. In this Christmas season (today is the 5th day of Christmas), I am thrilled by the realization that God sent His Son to live with us, to walk with, to show us the Face of God.

In a world that can be harsh and cruel, he came to lavish His love on the miserable.

I have just enjoyed a work of art that dramatizes God’s love in action, the new movie, “Les Miserables.”

I loved it. I urgently encourage you to see it, because the world needs more movies like this.

It melds the artistic advantages of cinema with the boundless passions of Broadway. Is it for you? It depends.

Do you like musicals? I do, but acknowledge that the art form isn’t for everyone. Even if you’re not typically a fan of musicals, you may still be moved by this powerful film with its provocative, meaty themes. The difference between Les Miserables and any other other drama is that the actors sing rather than speak. Over 99% of the film is sung with a clarity that makes it easy to understand.

As one who has seen “Les Miz” on the stage at least five times, I found the film version easier to follow than the stage version the first time I saw it. Only with the film, it’s as if you’ve got a front row seat.

Director Tom Hooper did something extraordinary that catapulted the movie version of Les Miserables into the stratosphere: he filmed the actors singing live.

In a typical musical for cinema, the actors pre-record their singing, which is later dubbed in. Actors lip synch their parts while the camera is rolling. In some famous musicals, such as West Side Story, a professional singer’s voice is dubbed in to replace the star’s lackluster singing voice, as they did for Natalie Wood’s character.

Not in Les Miz, the musical. The result is stunning. The narrative seems more authentic. The emotional impact is profound.

Why was  Les Miserables, the novel, which was penned by Victor Hugo in 1862, so beloved? Critics mocked it, but the public loved it.

Why was Les Miserables, the musical, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubill, so wildly popular even though so many critics panned it?

And why is Les Miserables, the movie, expected to be box office gold, even though top critics gave it mixed reviews, such as this one:

“The good news: Les Miserables is a less miserable film experience than expected. The bad news: it’s still miserable.”

Here’s why: it’s a great story. It’s a story of a bunch of scumbags like you and me. They may live in the first half of the 19th century in France, but their lives echo ours.

They do bad stuff. Some of them learn from it and grow. They cry out to God to intercede. And He does, but not always in the way they anticipate.

These motley characters experience broken dreams and suffer unrequited love. Their lives are filled with passion and sacrifice. Ultimately, Les Miz is a tale of redemption. A good man gone bad finds his life turned upside down by the kindness of a stranger.

This action restores our hero, Jean Valjean, onto the path of righteousness.

As someone who has written and had performed a half-a-dozen musicals, I marvel at the quality of the songs in Les Miz. The composers have crafted a remarkable string of memorable tunes and riveting lyrics.

A typical musical is lucky to have a single song that sticks with the audience. Les Miz has a dozen, at the very least.

Les Miz is competing with “Django” for the top box office film of the holiday season. Django director, Quentin Tarantino, tells an awfully good story. He does it with style, and yet, he seems incapable of telling a story without the use of pornographic violence and obscene quantities of blood and profanity.

I’ve seen some of his previous films. I won’t see Django. I just don’t want to subject myself to so much violence.

Les Miz uplifts.

Django, from what I can tell, doesn’t.

G.K. Chesterton wrote about art at great length. He said:

“The tragedy of humanity has been the separation of art from the people.”

You know what he means. Critics turn their nose up at the popular. Critics try to undermine decent films like Les Miz that so very much appeals to us regular folks, at the same time they promote works of questionable values.

Modern filmmakers try to avoid creating art that honors timeless virtues such as prudence and temperance, faithfulness and integrity. Chesterton explains why:

“The real weakness of the best of the new [artists] is that their quaintness does not arise out of a universal world of wonder, but rather out of a world without wonder; it comes not from simplicity, but from satiety.

The shepherds who watched the first sketches of Giotto were surprised that he could draw a face, and therefore still more surprised that he could draw a beautiful face. But the modern Giotto is tired of beautiful faces, and feels that there might yet be a surprise of ugly faces … [But] there is no permanent progress that way; we cannot really be rejuvenated by becoming more and more jaded.”

Tarantino’s latest bloodbath attempts to make us all the more jaded to bloodlust. After the latest bloodbath of innocents, do we need more of this kind of “art?”

Hooper’s Les Miserables, on the other, fills our hearts with wonder at the potential beauty in each of us.

Tarantino makes us look no better than any other animal that prowls the earth.

Les Miserables shows us we’re different, that we were made by a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to comfort the miserable and lift us up.

As Jean Valjean sings at the close of Les Miz:

Take my hand
And lead me to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting.
And remember
The truth that once was spoken
To love another person
Is to see the face of God!
Run, don’t walk, to see Les Miserables.



  1. skyedog27 on December 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Loved it but to be honest some of the singing was painful to listen to. After seeing Les Mis at the Civic Center staring Peter Lockyer and owning the Broadway CD featuring Colm Wilkerson and Michael Ball….well frankly I’ve been spoiled. Yet the sordid landscapes, the desperate poverty depicted on the screen, the tortured faces in up close and personal cinematography were stunning and memorial. I must add that all the cast members were great butfish Hugh Jackson was brillant!

    • quinersdiner on December 30, 2012 at 10:48 am

      I know what you mean, but it’s a reflection of the difference between the two art forms. With cinema, acting trumps singing. With stage, singing trumps acting. Like you, I love Colm Wilkinson’s take on Jean Valjean and was delighted they included him in the movie version. Great to hear from you.