I was planning on skipping "Les Misérables." I knew of the play, and the novel by Victor Hugo, that the musical was beloved by millions. Then I found out that the whole Susan Boyle miracle revolved around a song in "Les Mis" and that gave her story even more resonance. But I thought the whole thing would probably be overlong and overwrought and I don't have patience for that kind of thing.
I did see it, and I was right. It was overlong and overwrought. I would also venture to say it was oversentimental. But one other thing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was overtly Christian, and yet popular.
Christianity is a funny thing in stories. You don't get a lot of it overtly in Hollywood, and what does get into the mainstream culture tends to be pious and preachy and therefore not very interesting.
Of course, as I've written before, "Invisible" Christianity is present in American mythology. Themes of Christianity (such as resurrection) without a Christian label dominate popular stories in America and because of Hollywood's power are making inroads into the world's cinematic mythology.
But "Les Mis" is Christian, no regrets, and really, without a whole lot of preachiness or piety.
The overdramatic nature of the story builds up a world where small things matter, and big things matter more. Christianity is all about small things mattering. A lot.
So everyone's actions in "Les Mis" seem to matter a whole lot more than they might in a regular Hollywood movie. Moral dilemmas become kind of like car chases and things exploding. They become the exciting thing about the movie.
Case in point, without huge spoilers: at about the one-third pole of the movie, the hero, Jean Valjean, finds out that the French authorities have captured a suspect whom they are going to try as the escaped criminal Jean Valjean. The real Jean Valjean, who broke parole and is living under an assumed name, realizes that if they convict the fake Jean Valjean, he, the real JV, will be in the clear.
But instead of being happy that he, the real Jean Valjean, will have no worries from the authorities after they convict the fake Jean Valjean, he, the real one, figures that the only honorable thing to do is to present himself to the court and save the innocent man.
"If I present myself to the court," he sings, "I am condemned. But if I do not, I am damned."
In other words, if he doesn't save the fake JV, he will be guilty in God's eyes.
And that matters.
Wow. What a breath of fresh air.
So, even though I am not all that taken in by the whole musical play idea of "Les Mis" or its star power, or its historic content, I do congratulate Victor Hugo and everybody who brought that novel to the screen for making Christianity a hit.
Here's to more of that.
Poster found here.