Les Miserables: A Conversation of Grace

We don’t need more “Christian” movies. People clamor for more faith-based entertainment, but that usually just involves sanitizing every story for little eyes and ears and slapping a gospel presentation on the end of the movie. Watch the Hallmark Channel if you like, but there are people in the world today who need to hear powerful stories of grace and redemption that may not be safe for children.

I was chatting with someone about movies one day, and our conversation turned to film Les Miserables. “Javert is so stupid,” this person declared. “Valjean lets him go free and all of a sudden he has to go kill himself.” We both had to get going with our day, but I was shocked after reflecting on the conversation to think that someone could completely miss one of the most significant aspects of this film.

The tension between police inspector Javert and the fugitive Jean Valjean represents an epic battle between grace and law. The question is not how Valjean could dodge the police by escaping from town to town like my friend expected from him. The real drama is what happens when the story throws these two characters against each other again and again. After all, what are the chances that two men in France would meet so often?

You cannot outrun some problems in life. Jean Valjean is indeed guilty despite his intentions. He did steal the loaf of bread. Though we may think it of little significance, it makes no difference in the eyes of the law. However, he receives forgiveness from a bishop and then attempts to show mercy and kindness to others throughout the rest of his life.

Javert on the other hand sings about his moral uprightness as he paces the edge of a high stone tower. When Valjean spares Javert’s life, the power of Javert’s legalism ends in debt to mercy. “There is nothing on earth that we share / It is either Valjean or Javert,” he sings. The lyric and melodic similarities between the two characters are excellent. Valjean stares into the void of his own sin and finds new life. Javert does the same and finds death. That is what the story is about, and THAT is the same message Christians should be working to convey.

Les Miserables brought in over 400 million worldwide at the box office. People undoubtedly went to see the film, but did they see the real significance? I’m not saying that we should take 6-10 year-olds to dark and weighty movies, but we shouldn’t try to sanitize culture at large. Perhaps the problem is not entirely the producers, but with us the consumers as well. We miss the opportunities right in front of us where faith and the real world actually engage. Movies like Les Miserables provide a natural opportunity to start a conversation of grace.  With a great story, people might actually be willing to listen.


Banner Image: “La Chartreuse Sous Montreuil” fromMarlène (cropped). Creative Commons License.

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