Seeking Social Justice in "Les Misérables"

Categories: JusticeSocial Justice

Seeking social justice has come a long way during the darkest period of history. The longing for equality of every individual in the society has never been simple and painless, but it gave them the force to start a revolution and that was the beginning of a story — a story which was enticingly captured by the known author Victor Hugo as early as 1829 which is now successfully adapted as a musical drama film directed by Tom Hooper. The inequality between the rich and the poor has been a major issue specifically in Paris where the author witnessed the same incident that triggers the novel’s action such as seeing a penurious man being arrested for stealing just a loaf of bread and observed how a well-off woman who stopped by was completely unaware of his existence and at that moment a catastrophe was inevitable.

The movie Les Misérables or defined as “the miserable ones” really piqued my interest as to how it was considered a great musical drama film that was yet to offer by Tom Hooper during the year of its release.

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According to an article of Comcast, the film had an incredible opening, grossing an estimated $18 million, making it the 2nd highest Christmas Day opening in history behind Sherlock Holmes, which opened in 2009 with $24.6 million. Les Misérables now holds the record for the biggest non-weekend Christmas Day opening in history, besting Marley & Me, which opened on a Thursday in 2008 with $14.4 million. It is also the highest ever opening day for a musical (2013).

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As I’ve watched the two and a half hours long movie, I’ve come to understand the significance of the title since I haven’t read the novel the movie was based on yet. I can tell the title was well thought even the story which was centered on the lives of the characters during the French Revolution (the 1800’s). At the beginning of the movie, the main character was then introduced and named as Jean Valjean (24601) played by Hugh Jackman. He was imprisoned for a total of 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread — an act of desperation for which he is unjustly punished. After he was released, he broke his parole until a priest came to help which triggered a change in him and later reinvented himself as a pillar of society and factory owner. Javert played by Russell Crowe — the officer in charge of the prison workforce vows to bring Valjean back in prison as he became obsessed with his capture. Years later, he adopts Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of Fantine played by Anne Hathaway, a former employee of his who became a prostitute and died. As the years progress and the French Revolution begins to foment, a grown Cosette falls for a passionate revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), while Javert begins to close in again on Valjean’s secret past.

Tom Hooper took a good risk in directing the stage musical Les Misérables, which itself has been adapted from Victor Hugo’s immense novel. Actors lip-sync to songs on a pre-recorded track to some of the screen musicals that existed today, but Hooper’s direction was beyond more than that. He decided to let his cast sing live on camera throughout the film, which I considered artistically daring and unique, aiming to replicate the spontaneity and freshness that have bewitched fans of the stage show and brought out the best in the actors. The scene that really stirred the audiences’ emotion was Anne Hathaway’s showstopping performance portraying a doomed Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream” which Hornaday would express as a melodramatic tour de force of vocal and physical expression (2012).

Les Misérables is both majestic and brutal, the beauty of the cinematography and the music achingly juxtaposed against the cruelty and savagery of its characters’ lives. Also, the movie remarkably recreates the vibrant, gritty Paris of the early 1800’s in a story of sin, redemption, love, violence, tragedy, and ultimately, peace and hope. This wildly successful musical is very emotional onscreen. It’s heartbreaking to watch some scenes of suffering, but in the end, the story revolves around one central message: to love another person is to see the face of God. There were casual lyrics and dialogue, but nothing is glamorized. The language use is very descriptive and uses elaborate details. The movie also gives off a little comedy provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as a lowlife pair of innkeepers. No wonder the film has earned so many awards; this one’s worth the buzz.

For in most other aspects of the film, I was quite uninterested especially with the unnecessary close-up of the characters performing that I wish the camera would pull back a little, or that the score could quiet down a little to let a moment just be — there’s virtue in the plainly staged scene, too — but there are few of those, thankfully. The characters singing together with different lines such as the scene of Cosette, Marius and Éponine can be tough to decipher without subtitles and the strangulated voice of Russell Crowe who portrayed Javert at times feels at odds with the rest of the cast’s style, but his deeply felt Javert persuades. The movie preaches that sacrifice and forgiveness should fill everyone’s life and motivate their actions. Jean Valjean, the main character, lives his life for the betterment of others, and other characters redeem themselves and give to others consistently. In recent times full of violence and loss, Les Misérables is certainly perfect and rare despite some flaws in it. It’s a beacon of hope in darkness.

This musical film is a classic example of Marxism. It shows extreme poverty juxtaposed with extreme wealth, extreme power versus extreme helplessness. Les Misérables was created with the purpose of criticizing an intensely unequal society. The setting of the film was around 1815-1832. The society was only divided into two classes: proletariat and bourgeoisie. Proletariats consist of working-class people, while bourgeoisie consist of wealthy aristocrats, government officials, and merchants. Proletariats spent most of their time in working, while bourgeoisie spent most of their free time in taverns or mansions. Proletariats in the post-revolution were working well just to earn for living. Peasants, and vendors were those people included in the proletariats. They usually have economical struggles since they were poor and cannot afford even loaves of bread. Due to the inconsistent economic progress, the peasants turned into rebels as seen in the movie where they constantly barged in on the bourgeoisie who pass by on the streets. Thus, rebels are being supported by the militants. These militants consist of young student revolutionary leaders called the Friends of the ABC where Marius is a part of that group. They use their mouth and voice to address their sentiments, especially the struggles of the proletariats in the society.

On the other hand, the bourgeoisie were living in much comfort and spends all the time in leisure. Bourgeoisie usually controls the power in the government. As a result, abuses against the proletariats rose up. Their arrogance triggered the proletariats to fight against them. The conflict of the Javert and Valjean is not just one of Justice vs. Injustice, but also a conflict of class. If Valjean had not been one of the impoverished, he might have been able to regain respect from Javert after he reinvented himself. Instead, Javert pursues him relentlessly, allowing Valjean no redemption. Marius and his grandfather also come into conflict when Marius joins the Friends of the ABC for civil liberty; the grandfather is a staunch aristocrat and opposed to the giving of rights to plebeians. The social status was too segregated, while the economic status was not well. This is all evident in the plot of the movie — the higher class has more power while the lower class were powerless and voiceless. This large separation causes massive discrimination, conflicts and exploitations.

Sexual references are also frequent in the first third of the film, through which a main theme is prostitution that can be accounted to feminist approach. The movie depicts how women before was abused and marginalized by its society. One example would be the situation of Fantine. She was a worker in a factory who was later fired for hiding that she has a child (the assumption is that she is immoral, which her co-workers pounce on). Valjean does not fight the foreman to keep her employed, and she is fired. Now jobless, she turned to prostitution to support her child. Through her role, we see the suffering of every woman. She represents the thin line between those virtuous and those fallen and mirrors women’s imprisonment within this dichotomy. The society seen in the film — a rape culture — where women are left with little economic opportunity and sex work becomes a means — sometimes the only means — of survival for themselves and their children. The torment mothers endure watching their own children suffer is unbearable. Although we learn from an early age that to be worthy of God is to be pure, women are forced into choosing their own damnation in favor of their children’s salvation. In rape culture, violence is perpetrated against women in many forms. Economic injustice, lack of employment opportunities, and the sex trade offered up as a means of survival are certainly forms of violence. In her story, we recognize the unjust economic conditions for female migrant workers and the injustice of being condemned by society for “choosing” the sex trade (Messina, 2013).

Overall, this film has taught me what social action must be considered desirable which was indirectly portrayed by children who need to be fed, men who need jobs, and women who need protection. It was a success in convincing the general public that the poor — the Misérables — are worth saving, that even the most impudent, scruffy street gamin has something to contribute to society, that even the most hardened convict is capable of great good. And the most appealing and enduring quality of Les Misérables is the fact that it is permeated by this unquenchable belief in the spiritual possibilities of man.

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Seeking Social Justice in "Les Misérables". (2020, Oct 13). Retrieved from

Seeking Social Justice in "Les Misérables"

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