Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Miserable Ones

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the movie Les Miserables, this may spoil a few surprises for you. And if you don't know the story, some of my comments won't make sense. So just go see the movie.

Back in the late '80s, Doug, his cousin Kim, and I saw the stage version of Les Miserables in Chicago. It was one of the most moving "art" experiences of my life. The man who played Jean Valjean moved me to tears when he sang "Bring Him Home."

Yesterday, our family saw Les Mis the movie, and it moved me to tears, too. The difference was that the stage version brought me to tears with the music while the movie brought me to tears with the story.

Without the restrictions of a stage, movies are able to recreate both the gritty and glorious elements of the real world. The movie makers took advantage of the tools offered them with wide, sweeping views of Paris (no doubt computer generated) and intimate (sometimes painfully prolonged) close ups. I believe the directors knew that storytelling would be the focus of the movie, so they opted for fine actors who were adequate singers rather than fine singers who could act. Some of the supporting roles seemed to be filled by genuine singers--like Marias and his band of brothers--but I found the other voices to be good enough, not spectacular.

I loved the homage to the stage play in the casting of Colm Wilkinson as the priest. He is the man who originated the role of Jean Valjean in London and Broadway. He played this small part well--with simplicity and sincerity.

As I analyzed the more technical aspects of the movie, I also asked myself what the two male lead characters might be saying about God. Valjean, the compassionate parole breaker, dedicated his life to God after a kind priest showed him mercy. Javert, the righteous police inspector, believed God was on his side in pursuing justice.

Does one of these characters personify God better than the other? I asked myself. I decided both men showed the danger of embracing an incomplete view of God.

Valjean, who showed kindness, self-sacrifice, and devotion, kept secrets from those he loved most. He was always one step ahead of the law, always looking over his shoulder. Without submitting to the law of the land, he never knew complete peace or rest.

Meanwhile, Javert was so focused on fulfilling the requirements of the law that he knew nothing of kindness.  In fact, the conflict between the justice he pursued and the grace shown him by Valjean was more than he could bear.

Our Divine Father is perfectly just and perfectly compassionate. He understands that both qualities are necessary. We cannot expect him to turn a blind eye when our attitudes or behaviors violate his clearly defined standards. But at the same time, we need not fear that he will respond to our wrongdoing without love and compassion.  He treats all of Earth's miserable souls with perfect justice and perfect kindness.

And His mercy (His compassion and kindness toward the miserable and afflicted) is on those who fear Him with godly reverence (Luke 1:50, Amplified).