Les Miserables is stunning. There is no other word that would so perfectly describe this epic masterpiece of exceptional music, powerful emotion, and stellar acting. Set in Paris, the movie follows the life of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he transcends from the bondage of slavery under the iron fist of the cruel and tyrannical Javert (Russell Crowe) to become a fugitive, forever fleeing from the grip of societal law. The story identifies a common bond between the characters in that they all have secret burdens to bear, particularly in the cases of Jean Valjean and Fantine, but it also liberates the characters from their personal suffering and allows each of them to obtain what they so desperately long for: peace.
Fantine (Anne Hathaway) portrays a young woman whose strength shines through the darkness which shrouds her because her actions are driven by the purest of motives: the love she has for her daughter, Cosette. Fantine’s character has a double purpose in the movie. Initially, she is cast into the most malevolent of circumstances for women because society refuses to accept that her motives are borne out of love and not lust. Despite the hopeless circumstances that she has been cast into, Fantine demonstrates her strength and resolve to protect her daughter by giving the most precious part of herself in order to insure her daughter’s security. Fantine entrusts her daughter’s life to Jean Valjean, allowing him to bring her peace as she journeys to her death. In doing so, she becomes something of a guardian angel to Jean Valjean and ultimately, she breaks the painful burden that he carries in his heart and in its place offers him peace.
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a man of honor and compassion who is trapped in a fragile stalemate of circumstance by a choice he made in his past. Valjean’s character begins his journey as a man haunted by darkness and suffering. After an eternity of living in darkness and struggling with the cruel nightmares of his past, Jean Valjean’s broken spirit is given a chance at redemption and peace by a kind stranger’s act of compassion.
The irony of this second chance is that it becomes almost a burden for Valjean to bear instead of a means of liberation. His chance at redemption allows Jean Valjean to change the path of his life and become a better man, but his heart interprets this chance at redemption as a penance that he must do in order to gain that which has so freely been bestowed upon him. In spite of everything, he feels he can never quite reach the point where he is truly worthy of being forgiven. He is hunted by Javert, a policeman who is determined to cast Jean Valjean back to the darkness of slavery and pain despite Jean Valjean’s efforts to elude the determined lawman. Jean Valjean’s compassion leads him not only to change the path of his life, but also to honor a promise and offer Cossette, a lonely orphan, a better life than circumstance and poverty has given her.
There is an interesting love story woven into the fabric of Les Miserables which is beautifully portrayed and allows the audience a glimpse of the softer side of a harsh and uncompromising world. At the heart of the love story is Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, whose attraction to the dashing Marius conflicts sharply with the devotion she has for her adopted father. The web of romance becomes more tangled when Eponine also finds herself attracted to Marius and tries desperately to keep the fragile love between Marius and Cosette from becoming an impassioned flame. A tender resolution is reached when Jean Valjean surrenders his beloved Cosette to Marius, allowing the couple to have his blessing as he finds his own peace with the beautiful Fantine.
Les Miserables is a film that defines the essence of an epic masterpiece and leaves one of two impressions on the audience. The powerful storyline, complex characters, and predominantly sung dialogue will either draw the audience into the story or repel them because it is so overwhelming. The casting for this movie is perfect, especially in the choice of Anne Hathaway for the role of Fantine. If you enjoy an excellent period film, then this is a movie you will want to see.