My wife and I just saw the theater version of Les Misérables.
Now, we just saw the Broadway musical version two months ago so the story and music were still fresh in us. Actually, we had both seen the musical first in London, and, unbeknownst to either one of us at the time saw it in the same summer in the early 1990s.
I will not attempt critical review of the movie (my wife’s the pro in that area), but I will say that, aside from what I considered to be some gratuitous sexual scenes (though even these served to manifest the macabre decadence of the protagonists’ world), I thought overall it was an exceptional piece of film art.
What I will share is the power of the story’s core vision: that self-sacrificing merciful love triumphs in the end over the violent brutality of sin and death. Now, even as I write those words I realize immediately how such abstractions as ‘sin’ and ‘death’ at once siphon the fiery power of meaning that narratives — fueled by magnificent music — alone can bear in the deepest recesses of the human soul. While abstractions can illumine the mind, narratives infest, invade and inhabit the imagination and have the power to rewrite our own inner “master narratives” in life-altering ways.
So many thoughts to share; so many insights! But there was one aspect of the story that particularly gripped me this time around. The great heroes and heroines of Les Mis all find their voice of greatness precisely in the midst of the most dire adversity, rising (literally) out of the rotting sewage of human waste where divine mercy appears. The saints in Les Mis come from, and return to, those most hellish places where no person of good repute would ever dare venture; no person, that is, save those who have themselves tasted of God’s unimaginable condescending and co-suffering love.
This staggering epiphany reminded me at once of the unbroken Christian tradition of canonized sanctity that pulses at the heart of the Christ-story: in God’s economy light shines brightest in the midst of darkness, love appears strongest in in the midst of hate, life appears immortal in the midst of death, purity appears resplendent in the midst of filth, and gentle mercy appears fiercest in the midst of the most brutal violence that breathes deep the sulfurous vapors of hell. In other words, the heavy crosses of life are the prime conditions for the fullest appearing of the divine in human history. This is the folly of the Cross that indelibly marks the providence of God; a providence that theology calls redemptive.
All this gives Christians a cause for hope in the darkest night and it alone can set us apart from every other creed. If we fail to dare embrace this Christian creed, we should not dare claim to be bearers of hope in the Christ who has come.