A Student Review of Les Miserables

By Erika Lopez

Les Miserables, the 2012 film version of the famous musical, might sound exotic to some students. However, despite its somewhat difficult-to-pronounce name, Les Miserables tells a story of the power of compassion and patriotism, which all students can understand.

Credit:Kevin Mach
Credit:Kevin Mach

Les Miserables was originally a novel written by Victor Hugo set during the French Revolution. In French, Les Miserables can be translated to “the Poor Ones” or “the Miserable Ones.”

During the French Revolution, these titles accurately described the majority of the French public, which suffered immensely in poverty, in part due to the lack of capable leaders. The novel Les Miserables was so successful that it was developed into a musical in the 1980s, and, ultimately, into this film.

From the beginning of the film, the audience observes the harsh conditions that millions of French people endured, as the first scene depicts indentured servants working and singing of their struggles on a French ship. The main character, Jean Valjean, is introduced and it is revealed that he has been forced to serve a nineteen-year prison sentence after stealing a single loaf of bread in an attempt to feed his sister’s hungry child.

Valjean is finally granted his freedom from his servant duties, but before being officially dismissed, he is humiliated in front of his fellow servants and told by a police inspector named Javert that he will forever be nothing more than a lawbreaker to society.

Valjean leaves prison an angry man, but he manages to quickly learn compassion and love from a significant, but often times overlooked, character, Bishop Myriel. Myriel reminds Valjean that he possesses a soul and despite what society thinks, he can still leave a positive mark on the world.

With this advice, Valjean’s attitude towards life changes completely, and as Valjean manages to escape poverty, he gives back to others. He ultimately becomes the guardian of a young, impoverished girl named Cosette. Valjean also joins his countrymen in the revolt against the government.

However, Valjean is continuously reminded of his past as a lowly servant, and he struggles to decide whether he should forget or accept his former self and move on.

Hugh Jackman, who is well known for his role in the X-Men series, made a remarkable Jean Valjean. His acting and singing were superb and he fully embodied his character. Jackman won this year’s Golden Globe for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy or Musical and is nominated for the Academy’s Best Lead Actor in a Motion Picture award.

Les Miserables had an all-star cast, including Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter. However,Les Miserables also marked the film debut of lesser-known British singer Samantha Barks, who portrayed Eponine. Barks’ rendition of “On My Own” is sure to leave even those who claim to be unaffected by fictional characters emotional, or at least a bit sympathetic.

In terms of the artistic direction of Les Miserables, the images really helped bring the audience into the moment with the actors. Les Miserables was also nominated for an Oscar in the categories Production Design, Costumes, and Makeup and Hairstyling.

It is fair to say that the movie has a good chance of picking up a lot of awards in two weeks. So if you’re looking to see a movie that will make you cry, occasionally laugh, and experience some of the most amazing music composed, be sure to watch Les Mis.

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