I just got back from the movie Les Miserables – my first movie theater experience in about 20 years. All I can say is – it was worth the wait.
But I will say more… probably several posts worth. First, let me caution you that if you are planning to see the movie (and I recommend you do), see it before you read this review. That said…
Today, I want to focus on the lives and deaths of two characters in the film – Eponine (the inn keeper’s daughter) and Javier (the policeman).
Eponine grows up in the household of unscrupulous parents who favor her over Colette (“I mean Cosette.” – as the inn keeper would say). She sees their greed as they rob, cheat, and steal even a a randy Santa Claus from his goods (including his pants). As they fall on harder times, as does most of France, they are still only looking out for themselves. To the end of the movie, they sing out their selfish creed as they are carried away from crashing a wedding.
Yet, in spite of her skewed upbringing, Eponine manages to develop strong values. Though she falls in love the handsome and brave Marius, she consents to show him the way to Cosette when she sees this is his heart’s desire. Though she could have become embittered at only seeing love from a distance, she channels her rage to fight for the freedom of her people. In the end, she gives Marius Cosette’s love note, making their union possible. As her reward, she is able to die in his arms, as he declares love for her as well.
Eponine lives a virtuous, self-less life. She gives her life for her love, and for people.
Javier, on the other hand, lives for vengeance. We first see him overseeing prisoners as they are treated like slaves. Though he hands Jean Valjean his parole papers, he tells Valjean that he will never pay for his crime (of stealing bread to feed his sister’s son). Javier represents the dark side of merciless law that favors the punishment of death-in-life rather than make room for forgiveness and grace.
Fast forward to the revolution. Javier is a prisoner of the revolutionaries, being caught as a spy. Jean Valjean is given the opportunity to kill him for his crime. Instead, he cuts Javier loose and grants his pardon. This confuses Javier. In fact, it causes him to question his existence. Not long later, when the tables are turned and Javier lets Jean Valjean escape, Javier can’t bear to live with his identity confusion. The world can not contain both Valjean and Javier (mercy and vengeance), he sings. He chooses to kill himself rather than to live by grace.
Death is something none of us can escape. But we do have a choice. We can live by grace, and do what is good and right and loving, as Eponine does. Or we can die clinging to a perverted sense of human injustice that can never measure up, as Javier does.
Give your life or choose to die. Which will you do?
(image “At the Movies – Les Miserables” from erjkprunczýk, some rights reserved)