One of the things I wanted to do this new year was write more often on this blog, so here I am, only 22 days into the year! : )
I finally got to see the movie adaptation of the musical Les Miserables with my family yesterday. I thought it was terrific! Most of the reviews I had seen of the movie were mixed, so I was expecting not to like parts of it, but I thought everyone in the cast did a great job. (Yes, even Russell Crowe as Javert.)
I think it’s unrealistic to compare the movie to the stage production based just on the singing, because the stage actors are among the best in the world at using their voices to express their emotions. The movie took advantage of its cast’s screen acting ability, often having more subdued singing performances, but a lot more going on with characters’ expressions, actions, and body language.
That meant that it was wise to change some things about the way the movie portrayed events. For example, when Jean Valjean decides to steal the bishop’s silver, the stage production has Valjean himself describe the event to the audience in song:
He let me eat my fill; I had the lion’s share
The silver in my hand cost twice what I had earned
In all those nineteen years, that lifetime of despair
And yet he trusted me.
The old fool trusted me– He’s done his bit of good
I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should
But when the house was still, I got up in the night
Took the silver…
Took my flight!
Valjean practically screams the final word of this monologue, giving the audience a sense that he has made a choice that there will be no turning back from– He was imprisoned and enslaved unjustly for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, but now he has been so beaten down by the world that he has given up and has become a thief indeed.
In the movie, we can see Valjean (Hugh Jackman) steal the bishop’s silver, and having him sing about doing it (loudly, while in fact he is trying not to wake anyone) would likely seem awkward. So even though this is one of my (many) favorite parts of the musical, it makes sense not to present that part of the story in song.
There are a lot of other changes to the musical. Some things are left out; others are added. The order of a lot of songs is changed. But the impressive thing was that I agreed with virtually every decision. It made sense for Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” after we see the depths her life has sunk to when she loses her job and has to make sacrifice after sacrifice to earn money for her child Cosette– selling her hair, her teeth, and finally her self. In the stage production, the song is the introduction to the character Fantine, in which we learn what she is about. In the movie, we can more easily get an idea of her innocence and vulnerableness through her actions, and the song works better as a summary to get us to think back on what we have seen.
There’s so much more I could say about this story– it really resonates with me because of the central place it gives God. Without Him, it’s just a sad story, but with Him, it is full of hope.