It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to write a few thoughts about a film, but Les Misérables (2012) left a really strong impression on me.
Not only did the film meet my fairly high expectations – amazing acting, music, singing – it was as epic as the trailers make it out to be! But it was the storyline that touched me on a deeper level.
The film begins with the release of the convict, Jean Valjean, after he has served a 19 year sentence for stealing a piece of bread. Though he is a free man, he has been labelled a dangerous man and cannot find a place that would give him work or a shelter from the cold. He eventually makes it to the doors of a church where the Bishop residing there gives him food and shelter for the night. While all the household is asleep, Valjean steals all the silver and runs off. Of course, he is caught by the authorities are brought back before the Bishop. However, instead of condemning Valjean, the Bishop states that he gave the convict the silver and demands that Valjean be set free. Ashamed of his crime and touched by, Valjean vowed to live an honest life under a new identity.
Without going into too much extra detail, Valjean later becomes a respectable man in society but his past catches up to him in the form of his old parole guard, Javert. Javert views Jean Valjean as ‘once a thief, always a thief’ and once his real identity was revealed, Javert was determined to bring Valjean down. However, later on during the revolution, the tables turn and Javert is at the mercy of Valjean. Instead of taking his revenge, Valjean gives grace to Javert and spares his life. Javert is confused but determined to ‘give justice’ when he is in the position of power again. Unfortunately, he is unable to pull the trigger on Valjean the next time he had a chance and so, he concludes that if he cannot give justice, he can no longer live – so he commits suicide.
For me, in this story of redemption and forgiveness, Javert represented the ‘law’. Law is something that constantly condemns. It is rigid and is something that we can never quite measure up to, no matter what good we do, we cannot undo our past and it will be held against you forever.
However, there is God’s grace as depicted by the Bishop and then Valjean. Grace see the potential for greatness. Grace gives an opportunity for change. And when the law is touched by grace, it must die. It cannot exist in conjunction with the law.
The law says you are damned because of what you have done. Grace says that you don’t deserve it, but you will be given freedom and forgiveness anyway.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
– Ames –
P.S. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who saw this parallel – see http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/tgc/law-and-grace-in-les-mis