Sunday, January 13, 2013

Javert in "Les Miserables"

In celebration of one of my best friend's birthday this week, we went out to dinner and a movie. She'd initially wanted to see Silver Linings Playbook, but the movie times didn't match with our schedule. We decided to see Les Miserables instead.

I adored it! I've never read Les Miserables, nor have I seen the musical. I went into the theater knowing just that it was a musical that took place during the French Revolution. It followed the story of a man, Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman. He evolves from life of a slaver prisoner to parole dodger to humanitarian.

What moved me most was Russell Crowe in the role of Javert (Jean Valjean's antagonist). His character begins as a police officer, in charge of the prison slaves (including Jean Valjean). We learn he has worked his way up from his unpromising birth in a prison, and he eventually becomes a police officer. His perspective of the world is very black and white: There are people who break the law and must face the sentence for their crimes. He was able to work his way through the ranks and believes everyone else should, too. The people are poor and destitute because they didn't work out of their condition as he had. Criminals like Jean Valjean are criminals because they chose to commit an illegal act, like stealing bread. He doesn't judge them subjectively. To him, just because you're hungry doesn't mean you can break the law.

Like Jean Valjean, Javert is a religious man, but his focus on religion is the reward of the good and, more importantly, the punishment of the bad. In his eyes, Jean Valjean acted illegally. As such, he should be punished. He spends his career chasing down Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean saves Javert's life and sets him free. At first, this doesn't shake Javert's black-and-white perspective on life, and he lets Valjean know it changes nothing. To Javert, doing a good deed (saving his life) doesn't change the fact that Valjean is still a criminal and must pay the price for his crimes. He finally catches Valjean when time is critical; Valjean is trying to save another young man's life. Javert tells Valjean he will kill him if he tries to flee. Saving the young man is more important, so Valjean leaves with him.

This is what was so moving to me: Javert had to face his world-view. Jean Valjean was a criminal who dodged parole and needed to be caught and returned to prison. As far as Javert has ever been concerned, that is what mattered. Yet, to kill him would mean the death of the young man, and it would mean killing the man who freed him. It would mean killing a humanitarian, a person who has clearly repented. It would mean acknowledging that the world is not black and white. It would mean that good people (Valjean) can do bad things (steal and break parole). It would mean that some good people are victims of unfortunate circumstance, and some bad people might benefit from fortunate circumstances. His choice is to shoot Valjean or throw away everything he's ever believed and known. Unable to do either, Javert kills himself.

The movie tonight just blew me away. Russell Crowe's portrayal of Javert impacted me so much that I can think of little else. I just love it when a movie stays with you! I can't shake this one. I want to share it with everyone! My husband is not nearly as excited about the movie and was relieved I "went with friends so [he] didn't have to take me." I've told him he'll have to suffer through watching the DVD with me when it comes out. As for you, go see this movie. It's one of the best films I've ever seen.

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