Let’s just face it from the beginning—the 2012 version of Les Miserables by director Tom Hooper is addictively good. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe each nail their performances with gritty, unbelievable live singing, making this one of those Redbox rentals you keep for two nights.
Hooper set out to remake Les Mis with a new twist: the actors would sing live as they acted out their parts, not in a studio months before filming began. As a result, the film is intensely emotional, capturing the weight of human experience in HD. Two scenes stand out the most: first, when Fantine (Hathaway) despairingly sings “I Dreamed a Dream” at the bottom of a black brothel hole; second, when Jean Valjean (Jackman) cries out to God in the midst of his conversion. As a result, this truly is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen.
After seeing the new Les Mis, we’ve also enjoyed the practice in our family of talk-singing everything, as if life really happened that way. You should give it a try—it’s not only comical with little ones (who pick it up without asking why), it’s also bound to drive somebody up a wall. We’ve had little boys singing things like “Daddy if you don’t stop singing to me I’m going to put a trashcan on your head,” which makes for some riotous laughter. Always a good thing.
Although the movie is merely a seed form of the epic masterpiece written by Victor Hugo in 1862, it harkens us back to times when Christianity was the foundational, driving force behind social justice and charity. You see that clearly with Valjean, who receives extreme mercy from the priest and therefore sees it as his duty to alleviate unjust suffering where it exists. He seeks out the downtrodden, the oppressed and the poor, and—like he does with Fantine—acts righteously to deliver them.
In Les Mis, the proper connection between genuine faith and the good works that follow is so rightly assumed. In contrast to Thernadier (Sacha Baron Cohen)—who robs people blind and claims to be doing his fair share of Christian duty—Valjean displays a good Samaritan-like propensity for actually helping others. He leads a reputable business that employs hundreds of workers, manages his city with righteousness and provides for Fantine, lifting her out of the brothel and rescuing her daughter, Cosette.
The film reminds us all that Christians—redeemed from our own prison cells by the blood of Jesus Christ—are the ambassadors of His righteousness here on earth. Charity is defined by Jesus and extended in effect through us. Like Him, we go to all places in the world with the standard of his law and the practice of mercy, acting as little “r” redeemers for the broken, lost and sinful. We’re to spend real money, exercise real efforts and help real people as they have need. Like Boaz, we show compassion according to the law, doling out the same mercy we’ve been given.
I’ll have to be honest, a lot of the Reformed circles I’ve walked in have been some of the least kind places I’ve ever known. I wonder if our “grand theology” has really impacted our love the way it should. It’s quite a sad indictment when the people who are so often carrying out righteous social reform are the people with the weakest understanding of God and Scripture, while the ones who supposedly have it all together spend more time arguing about ecclesiology than actually being the church.
The simple question is this: Is our faith being displayed in the redeeming quality of our love for others in real, tangible ways? Where we have authority and power to do so, are we seeking to alleviate the needs of the oppressed, afflicted and abandoned?
What a great reminder from Les Miserables that we must as Christians labor as Christ’s redeemers for this world. Having been redeemed, we are called by our Master into a life of redeeming those things and people around us. We give to those who have nothing, we help the weak and we serve in charity and mercy. And—oh yes—we live as the singing people of God.
For there are many great deeds done in the small struggles of life.—Victor Hugo