Stunning. Terrifying. Beautiful. Depressing. Exhilarating. Magnificent. Crushing. Soaring. Huge. Emotional. Les Mis is all these things.
This past Friday, I watched the new Les Misérables for the first time. I have never read the book, and I have never seen a full performance of any other version. I did listen to it as an audiobook when I was young, but I didn’t really understand it or remember much of it. Thus, the story was mostly new to me. And I cried. My goodness, did I cry!
Girls have this weird thing where they subject themselves to sad things just so they can cry. I’m not sure why we do that necessarily, but a good cry is remarkably therapeutic. Thus, sad movies and music can be helpful in the long run, though they should be approached with a degree of caution.
Anyway, that’s a bit off topic. Back to the point. Les Mis was incredible! It’s a long movie, at 2 hours and 38 minutes. The first quarter/third/half or so (It’s a good chunk, okay? ) is less interesting than the last half, but that’s mostly because the second half is the culmination of everything that the first half sets up. Did they spend a lot of time setting the story’s conflict up? Yes. Was it too much? I’m not sure. I think it came really close to being too much, but it’s okay. And if it had been hurried, the emotional impact of the latter half wouldn’t have been as great. So yes, it is long. But its length contributes to the story’s depth in many ways.
The first huge surprise for me was that the characters sing nearly every line. I knew it was a musical, but when I think musical, I think of prominent musical numbers scattered through the whole thing. I expected a lot of songs, but I also thought there would be plain dialogue. There is some, but it is exceptionally brief. So that was jarring. From the beginning of the movie, you are immersed in song. But I adjusted to it eventually, and then the story really gripped me. I was captivated by the tale of this prisoner, Jean Valjean, kept in prison for nineteen years because of a petty offense and haunted by a policeman, Inspect Javert, whose attention to duty is frightening, to say the least. There seems to be no mercy in the man.
Valjean was played brilliantly by Hugh Jackman, the star of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well as Australia. Before seeing the movie, I was thinking how odd it would be to see Wolverine as a somewhat haunted Frenchman. But Jackman played him to perfection. You don’t think of Wolverine at all; Jackman is completely different as Valjean. His fear of Javert, his love for his charge, Cosette, and his emotional journey from hate to forgiveness are well captured by Jackman’s performance. Javert was played by Russell Crowe [Gladiator, Robin Hood ]. In a special feature interview, Russell Crowe said he wanted to draw out some of Javert’s emotional turmoil. I think he did that, to a point. He plays the unrelenting Inspector extremely well, and then, towards the end, his moral confusion is captured pretty well.
Anne Hathaway, the star of such favorites as The Princess Diaries and Get Smart, plays Fantine, and she pours a great deal of raw emotion into her performance. She is vulnerable and beaten down by life, but she has an inner flame in her love for her daughter, Cosette, who is played by Amanda Seyfried, previously in Mamma Mia and Letters to Juliet. Her voice is heavenly. Eddie Redmayne plays Marius with passion and breathlessness and a youth befitting his character. He also has a fantastic voice. The only problem I had with his performance was that, at times, you expect more from his facial expressions than he gives. But you don’t know how hard it is for me to criticize that; he was fantastic. Eponine was played in haunting fashion by Samantha Barks. She gave life to a character so young and so tired, so hopeful and yet so trodden down, and she played it to perfection. Her voice was really special, in my personal opinion. “Little Bit of Rain” is one of the most beautiful pieces in the entire film.
The supporting characters are all fantastic as well. The “Barricade Boys” are something special, and Aaron Tveit plays Enjolras magnificently. The sets of the movie are huge and really neat. The ships at the very beginning almost blew my mind, and the barricade is awesome! Each scene is crafted with special care, and they build to a mindbogglingly emotional crescendo. I cried through most of Fantine’s scenes, and after Eponine sings “On My Own”, my tears pretty much just escalated until the end. Then said tears had to gradually wind down during the credits. I’m really not exaggerating when I say I cried through almost the entire last half. I think I cried through “On My Own”; I know I cried through “Bring Him Home”, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and the end song. And the barricade scene? Ugh, the tears wouldn’t stop.
In some ways, I was surprised to cry so much. I mean, yes, it is an exceptionally sad story. But once I started crying, I continued to cry through happy and sad moments alike. You’d think I’d calm down emotionally during the happy moments. Nope, not really. I think I’ve figured out why it’s such an emotional movie, though. It’s an emotional story to begin with, but it’s connected entirely by music. It’s a well-known fact that music is tied to emotions. So, taking moments that are emotional on their own and then making them flow one into another with music is pretty much a recipe for tears. Thus, be prepared to cry. A lot.
Normally, I wouldn’t think such a sad movie could be so magnificent, but it is. Listening to the soundtrack now, I cry again. But I can still say it’s a great movie. Why? Because its themes are beautiful. Les Mis teaches you that beauty can come from ashes. It tells you that love endures, that some things are worth dying for, and that forgiveness can change your life. That is why I now love Les Mis. The songs are special and the actors are great. But in the end, it’s the themes that make it incredible. The themes are the reason this story has lasted and why it now continues to make an impact.
So, if you don’t hate musicals and you are up to an emotional few hours, I would definitely suggest trying out the new Les Misérables. You may find yourself feeling more rewarded than you ever would have expected.