Monday, September 6, 2010

Me and Jean

Its a holiday weekend and so I have devoted myself to a couple of my favorite things. I am reading and watching movies. I am having a little trouble on the reading front. It has been hard for me to find anything that really excites me this year. I have been reading Andrew Vachss, but the one I am in right now is hard for me to get into. But I digress.

I have also been watching movies. Last night I watched Les Miserables. The version I saw last night was the one from 1998 starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. It is a fine production, but by no means the best one available. There is a version with Charles Laughton from 1935. There is one with Claude Rains (I think) that I really like too.

I first met the story of Les Miserables through the Broadway musical version. It is great music, a superb story and just innovative enough to keep it interesting. I have seen stage productions of Les Miserables several times (including one high school production that was surprisingly excellent). There are days that I spend in a blissful fog singing "Who Am I," or "Bring Him Home." The music makes me smile and takes to specific scenes, times, places, emotions. Ahhh...

The novel, written by Victor Hugo, is one of my favorites. There are no weaknesses. Reading this thing allows me to get lost in the pages. I love everything about it.

But the best thing about Les Miserables is Jean Valjean. He is probably my all-time favorite fictional character. Jean is a convict. The story opens with Jean working on a chain gang for 19 years. He has been sentenced hard labor for stealing bread. When paroled, however, he goes on the run. While evading the police Valjean encounters a priest who shows compassion, grace, forgiveness and love. Jean Valjean is transformed.

For the rest of his life Valjean has to hide from the authorities- he is a parole violator after all. But he shows grace and compassion for everyone he meets, including his greatest enemies. His concern and love for others is clearly the theme of the story.

This is not necessarily and Christian novel. The musical is not a religious production. Every filmed version I have seen does not focus on the obvious Christian themes. However, it is impossible to separate Les Miserables from the gospel. It is, in many ways, a parable of the the way the Christian life ought to be lived. Jean Valjean is not Jesus, nor is he intended to be. But those who read or view Les Miserables honestly will see Jesus in Valjean as surely as they will in Aslan. Do not miss Les Miserables, in whatever form you can find it.

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