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This is my first attempt at reviewing a movie, but I found the new version of Les Miserables just too compelling not to write something.  As expected, the music is phenomenal, the acting, directing, costumes, etc. are all of the highest quality.  Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance is especially remarkable.  Her portrayal of Fantine is absolutely heart-wrenching.

All this said, my interest in writing about this movie is more in the overall message of the film rather than the component parts.  The movie begins with Jean Valjean being released from prison after a 19 year sentence.  He is marked as a dangerous man for life, and is in danger of starving to death as a free man.  On a cold night, he is taken in by a Catholic priest, given wine, a hot meal, and a bed.  Rather than responding in gratitude Valjean leaves in the middle of the night, stealing the priest’s silver dishes.

This crime would land Valjean back in prison for life.  He is immediately caught by the police and returned to the priest’s house.  This is the great turning point in the movie and in Valjean’s life.  Rather than swearing out a complaint against the thief, the priest tells the police that he gave Vajean the silver and goes even farther, giving him also his silver candlesticks which are of even greater value than that which Valjean originally absconded with.

There is a wonderful picture of grace here.  The priest in effect “buys” back Valjean’s life with his silver, supplying the criminal abundantly at his own expense.  What is remarkable (especially for a Hollywood movie) is that the grace offered to Valjean and his following repentance leads to a grace-based changed life.  Valjean does not change in an effort to deserve the favour of God – the story is not a mere “morality tale”.  He shows evidence of a genuinely changed heart, and goes on to show the same grace offered him to everyone he encounters through the rest of the story.  His conversion is beautiful and moving – a triumph of grace.

Conversely, there is the character of Javert, the police inspector who pursues Valjean through the years.  He is a pure representative of “law” in contrast to Valjean’s “grace”.  He makes statements like: “Honest work, just reward, that’s the way to please the Lord.” and “Those who follow the path of the righteous shall have their reward…  on the way to paradise those who falter and those who fall must pay the price… ”  There is absolutely no room for grace in Javert’s life.  He cannot even seek or extend grace to himself, as he seeks to be punished for accusing Valjean prematurely.

In the end, Javert cannot bear to live in a world where grace exists, choosing to kill himself rather than to allow himself to show mercy to Valjean.

There is a bit of rude material and sexual innuendo in this film, so it isn’t for everyone.  However, Les Miserables stands as a rare Hollywood film which offers a good (though not perfect) picture of the contrast between the life based on the grace of God and the life based on trying to gain God’s favour by attempting to keep the law.

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