Reviewed by: L. Francine Smith
Alternate version of this story: “Les Miserables” (2012)
I have read lots of theology, but for my money the two greatest spiritual works of the nineteenth century are Les Misérables and A Tale of Two Cities. The pity is, both were written as serials and are too complex to translate easily to the big screen. That said, Les Misérables translated well to the big screen and did an excellent job cutting to the spiritual heart of the novel.
The movie focuses on the relationship of Jean ValJean, an escaped parolee and Inspector Javert, his nemisis. The story is about Grace, Mercy, and Justice. Grace is personified by the Bishop, who early in the story shows a fearful and disheartened Jean Val Jean true charity. This charity transforms a brutal man into a model of Mercy. Though still fleeing the police (in the novel this was more the result of a police oversight, than a decision), Jean Val Jean does good works wherever he goes. Jovert, Justice personified, hounds him wherever he goes. It would be too easy to think Javert evil. The laws he enforces may be brutal and stupid, but he did not make them. He strives to follow the law to the letter, even to his own detriment.
In the end, Justice (Javert) must sacrifice himself to save Mercy (Val Jean). This brings the viewer face to face with the sacrifice of Christ to pay the price for our sins.
This film does contain several scenes of violence, slight profanity (slang term for breasts), and material involving prostitution (though nothing more than cleavage is shown). Overall, I found this movie both cinematically and spiritually satisfying.
Year of Release—1998