Having watched the stage musical Les Misérables five times, the film was brilliant and I would encourage you to go see it, if you haven't done so already. However, this is not going to be a film review, but a reflection on how evolving Faith can be and despite having watched the musical five times, the Catholic undertones never stood out for me before.
Granted the first time I watched the stage production was back in 1994 (aged 11) and the second was 1996 (13), then the subsequent three times were in 1999 (16), 2002 (18) and 2003 (19). So I was relatively young, and hadn't fully embraced my Catholic Faith. It was really in my twenties that I fully understood that I needed to live out my Catholic Faith, not just merely attend mass on a Sunday. Perhaps, this was the key into finally noticing, what I had overlooked in my youth, how deeply Catholic 'Les Mis' truly is.
Les Misérables portray's France in the days of poverty, extreme class differences and moral injustice. The central characters live through tremendous suffering , wrongful condemnation and internal guilt. However, 'Les Mis' is ultimately a beautiful love song about Redemption, Forgiveness and Grace.
Without giving too much away, the central character Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a misjudged convict (he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sisters hungry son), was imprisoned for twenty years of hard labour, and when paroled was branded an outcast. Without shelter, food, water and a job, Valjean became desperate, and stole from Bishop Myriel, a kind and generous soul. However from this moment Bishop Myriel tells Valjean to "promise" to use the silver to become an honest man, withdrawing from evil and surrendering his life to God. Valjean sings (almost prayer like):
"Yet why did I allow that man, to touch my soul and teach me love? He treated me like any other, he gave me his trust, he called me brother, my life he claims for God above, can such things be? For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me."
Valjean, does promise to change his life and transforms into a compassionate, caring and well loved and respected man. A man of Faith. He takes into his charge a young orphan, Cosette and goes through another transformation."There is a duty I must heed, there is a promise I have made, for I was blind to one in need, I did not see what stood before me."
His journey is one of true redemption and love, but it is not without guilt and suffering. When Valjean is faced with death, Fantine (Cosette's mum) intercedes for his soul: "Come with me where chains will never bind you. All your grief, at last, at last behind you. Lord in Heaven, look down on him in mercy."
Valjean himself, also confesses all his sins and sounds like an ending prayer: "Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory. Take my hand and lead me to salvation. Take my love, for love is everlasting and remember the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God."
Never did that phrase ever strike me, "To Love another person is to see the face of God." Perhaps it is because now, aged 30, my Faith has grown and matured. That truly I am starting to understand God's Grace, Mercy and ultimately Love.