Monday, January 28, 2013

Les Miserables - Still More To Say

It really isn't surprising that with a book the size of Les Miserables, that I would have more to say on it, especially relating to the movie.

After reading an interesting review on the new 2012 film of the musical, my mind latched on to one significant change from the musical to the movie and just why Victor Hugo went into such long detail on seemingly minor plot points. Hugo gives us long pages of detail about both the Bishop of Digne and Waterloo. To a modern audience it can seem as if these are wasted paragraphs. They are anything but.

Think for a moment about who the main character is in Les Miserables. It is Jean Valjean. Yet, without the Bishop of Digne there would be no Jean Valjean. In the musical the lyrics the Bishop sings to Valjean are "I have bought your soul for God." That really gets to the heart of the story. For the first chapters it seems that the Bishop is the main character and then we turn from him to Valjean, but do we really turn? No. The spirit of the Bishop follows Valjean wherever he goes. That lesson taught that sank in shortly after they parted, is what drives the entire story. The Bishop has set everything in motion with his un-characteristic love and kindness. Hugo spends so much time with the Bishop because, more than even Jean Valjean, this is the Bishop's story. We are just seeing one example in how what the Bishop taught by example touched even the most hardened convict.

Those who haven't read the book or seen the longer French films of Les Miserables, may not realize how pivotal Waterloo is. In the musical it is barely mentioned to indicate Thenardier had been there "picking the pockets of the English dead," but there is so much more in the novel. Where the Bishop set in motion all of Jean Valjean's actions, Waterloo sets in motion all the actions of Thenardier and Marius. Hugo spends so much time describing Waterloo, both the events of the battle and emphasizing how much time had passed since then, because it is important to understanding the story. Thenardier wasn't just picking the pockets of the English dead, he was picking the pockets and anything else he could find from all the dead, and there were a lot of dead. This is important because it shows what a miracle it was for Thenardier to find the senior Pontmercy alive among the dead. There were so many dead that it was pure chance that Thenardier found him. This effects Marius later in the story (in scenes that don't appear in the musical). In fact, Marius and Cosette aren't even born when the events with the Bishop and at Waterloo take place.

A modern writer would need to spend considerably less time delving into these two scenes. A little telling would speed up the story immensely, but to craft the same story, both scenes are necessary because they are the backbone upon which all the rest sits. Without the Bishop and Waterloo, there is no Les Miserables.

Which brings me back to the change that prompted this thought. In the musical, in the finale, the ghost of Fantine appears to Valjean, followed by the ghost of Eponine. While Eponine has great significance to the audience, she has no significance to Valjean. In the movie, Eponine is absent and in her place is the Bishop. This is very significant and meaningful for Valjean and can even be inferred form how Hugo wrote the original version of the scene. The Bishop helps close the story he started. Very fitting. Again, an improvement to the musical which only makes me love the movie all that much more. I am so looking forward to the blu-ray/DVD release.

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