I finally got to see Les Miserables this weekend. I say finally because I’ve been waiting for this movie for over a year, even though it’s only been in theaters for a couple weeks. Les Miserables has been one of my favorite musicals and stories for most of my life. There is something so powerful about the story: redemption, love, dream, believe, fight, grace….so many words that I use when I describe the power of the musical to anyone and everyone who will listen.
As much as I wanted to see it, I was also nervous. On more than one occasion I thought to myself, “Please, Hollywood, don’t ruin this for me. Don’t do it an injustice. Don’t make a mockery out of this thing, this spectacle, this story.” Because ruining it would be easy to do. I saw the first cast list and thought, okay…this could be okay. I know several of these people have some experience singing…and I don’t know several of these people, so hopefully they have some theater experience…we’ll see. And then I saw the first real preview. Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” And I cried. At the preview.
There are parts of the story that lend themselves to the big screen. So much of the story is bigger than life, and I feel like the movie brought to life some parts that are hard to make big enough on stage – especially the work camp at the beginning and the fight at the barricade. The scope of the film is, quite frankly, breathtaking. There is so much to see, so much to take in…so much anguish and pain that you miss if you’re not in the first few rows of a live show.
Honestly, there were moments that I missed the power of the live stage show. There were definitely people that were better than others. But it was still so, so good. Things that surprised me? I actually (despite some opinions I’ve read online) really like Russell Crowe as Javert. No, he wasn’t as imposing, as dark, as evil as he is often portrayed in the live show. But, I liked the humanity Crowe brought to a character that can be so one-sided. There was a moment when he was trying to reconcile Val Jean letting him go and realizing that he couldn’t live knowing that he’d been given grace he had never been willing to give – that’s pretty much when the tears started flowing freely and didn’t stop.
Two people, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne, were unbelievable to me. As Fantine and Marius, they are two sides of the same coin to me. They offer Val Jean a chance at redemption, at grace, at the forgiveness he’s sought and not quite believed his whole life. One taught him to love, one teaches him to let go.
There is so much I’ve thought about since we left the theater. There were so many moments when I caught my breath, shed a tear and just didn’t want it to end. There was a moment, toward the end, when I thought I would make it through it without breaking into the ugly cry. But the last 10 minutes are so moving, so powerful that I couldn’t stop myself.
I know Les Miserables isn’t for everyone. It’s long. It’s sung 95% of the time. It’s a complicated story to which you have to pay attention. But if you have a chance to see it, whether the movie or the stage show, please do. Find yourself in the story of Victor Hugo’s miserable ones. Remember that you were bought with a price, that redemption and grace are there for you to accept and give. That your past doesn’t have to define you, that people are passionate, good and worth loving. That there is evil and darkness lurking. That there are causes worth fighting for. That the people you love are more complicated than you could ever really understand. That loving people is worth the pain and fear that will come as a result. That every tear, every moment, every laugh are part of the story of the people who have loved you and whom you have loved.