To love another person… Even Russell Crowe.

HAVE YOU SEEN LES MISERABLES YET?????

(Note: It is only through a sheer willpower that I am resisting the urge to write this entire post in all caps. Still, if the occasional sentence slips through in my Owen Meany type, I can’t help it. And if you don’t understand the reference I just made, stop what you are doing RIGHT NOW and go out and get John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany because it will give you  THE SHIVERS.)

First, my own personal Les Misérables  backstory, because I have found that everyone who writes how they felt about the movie first must establish their right to write. (Like this article, which I liked a lot, despite not totally agreeing with it.)

Now, please know that when I say Les Misérables, I actually mean the book. Yes, it was a book once, with no music. I read it my sophomore year of high school, after having fallen in love with the characters via the Liam Neeson film version. Because if Liam Neeson has made a version of ANYTHING, I am there.  For those of you who love really long depressing French novels wih hundreds of page of [potentially pointless] description, the book is perfect. The characters are all appropriately miserable, their destinies are wonderfully doomed, the depection of Paris is perfectly grimy, and the overt narrative of redemption slaps you in the face with just the right amount of force.

Which is why I thought the movie was PERFECTION.

Before you start typing angry comments in all caps to the effect of “BUT RUSSELL CROWE CAN’T SING AND THOSE SUPER LONG CLOSEUPS WERE UNBEARABLE!!!!” hear me out. 

I have seen the musical three times, and the first time (pausing to consider typing this) I was disappointed. I thought, is this it? Yes, it was great, but it wasn’t the book, it wasn’t the anguish and triumph of humanity that I had found in the book, it wasn’t the same as the pages on which my tears had fallen.  It was too… pretty.

The second time I saw it was in Paris, from the front row, and some of Jean Valjean’s saliva actually hit me in the face. The production seemed more real and this time I fell in love with the music. By the time I saw it in DC for the third time, I was singing along and breaking out in goosebumps before every good song.

AND THEN THE TRAILER FOR THE MOVIE CAME OUT AND I CRIED EVERY SINGLE TIME I WATCHED IT. (Sorry, the all caps thing just took over. Under control now. But if you haven’t seen it yet, DO IT NOW RIGHT HERE.)

On Christmas day, the whole Stone troup went to see it and it lived up to everything I wanted from it. No, it was not the broadway musical, but it was the actual story set to the music I love. Its Hugo’s miserable characters struggling their way to redemption and love. It was dirty, and raspy, and sometimes when your life is falling apart you can’t sing pretty and THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.

Yes, Russell Crowe is not the typical perfect singer that usually plays Javert. (Maybe this would be the time to admit that I also loved the bad-singing Gerard Butler as the Phantom in the 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie better than the amazing singer who played him when I saw it live. )  In a three hour movie of perfect singing, I connected more with Javert through his rasping voice and stern face than I would have if he had actually managed to hold that final death note. Throwing yourself of a bridge is rough… singing your way through it is even rougher.

Even if you didn’t like Russell Crowe, I have two words for you:  ANNE HATHAWAY. Because she was perfect. As my friend Amanda messaged me after seeing it: “SHE BECAME A PROSTITUTE IN A BED THAT LOOKED LIKE A COFFIN. Lord have mercy.” And as for those indefinte closeups that made you see every dirty poor and quivering lip, they were the cinematic incarnation of Hugo descriptions that last for HUNDREDS OF PAGES.

But what I loved most of all was how the dirtiness, flawed singing, and forced closeness to abject misery allowed the redemptive message to shine. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” When that line rang out through the theatre, after over two hours of pain, ugliness, and struggle, I think something broke within every person watching. And when they all climbed back on the barricade for the last notes, you realized, more than the Broadway musical ever showed, that Les Misérables – the book at least – isn’t about the French revolution, or some doomed love story, or even the long chase of Valjean. It is about the glorious fraternity of miserably damned humans, and the final redemption that is coming.

So for those of you who have seen it… what were your thoughts?

(Also, given our country’s recent financial issues, check this out.)

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44 Responses to To love another person… Even Russell Crowe.

  1. Kate says:

    I love your last paragraph because that’s exactly what I told Brian as we left the theater. The film was dirty, uncomfortable and, in many ways, depressing. But the story also paves the way for the power of redemption.

    I definitely heard people catch their breath when I saw that last scene in the theater.

    • Hannah says:

      Even though I knew it was coming — it got me. And my parents one row back — who knew nothing about it going in — were crying into that popcorn bag with not enough napkins between them.

      Sometimes redemption requires ugliness to be redeemed from. :)

  2. J.R. Baldwin says:

    THE FILM WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I use caps locks without shame. I cried.

    I loved the continual renewal of man’s spirit and how redemption is found before Christ (in church, in love, before the crucifix, etc.). I also love Hugh Jackman.

    • Hannah says:

      I’M SO GLAD YOU CRIED!!!! I have to admit that I cried more during the many trailer viewings, and watched the movie in stunned awe, with several instances of tears or beating James’ leg. However, I have been sobbing my way through the soundtrack on a regular basis.

  3. Heidi says:

    We saw it the day after Christmas. LOVE! I have to admit that perfect voices give me goosebumps…but ultimately I agree with you. I can’t sing a lullaby with a cold…so it’s absolutely unreasonable to expect a suicide to sound good.
    Now, I HAVE TO read the book. But first I must conquer Moby Dick. I figure Les Miserables will be a bit better to get through if I can get through Moby Dick.

    • Hannah says:

      I still haven’t gotten through Moby Dick… I just can’t get excited about boat/man/whale books – but I should read it!!!

      And applause is really the only good response other than TEARS.

  4. Heidi says:

    Oh, and people applauded when Anne Hathaway finished her “I Dreamed A Dream.” :)

  5. Bill Lyerly says:

    Great post! I think everyone should see this movie as it probably preaches the gospel more than any movie out there today. I found it hard at times to keep myself composed…the depth of the words and music penetrated my soul much more than the live musical ever did. And yes, I agree, even though Russell Crowe isn’t a polished and accomplished barratone his performances were raw and messy at times…just like real life. I have encouraged everyone to see it at least once. We all need to hear this message and more importantly…live it out.

    • Hannah says:

      So true!!! It was really refreshing to see Hollywood embrace a movie with an overtly Christian message and not only not dumb it down, but play it up! What is it about music that helps us accept things we would otherwise scorn?

  6. wandererafterwisdom says:

    DEFINITELY have to read the book now, but am daunted by the look of my sister’s 5 volumes in French! Is the unabridged worth it even in translation?

    • Hannah says:

      YESSSSSS.

      Confession, and I am getting a masters in French Lit, so I feel I can admit this: I read the abridged version in English when I first read it. I then went back and read the full one and… all you are really missing is TONS OF DESCRIPTION, which is respectable and impressive… but not really necessary. I think that reading it, in whatever form you can find it/ get through it is worth it!

  7. Suzy says:

    I didn’t enjoy Russell Crowe’s performance, but didn’t feel like it ruined the movie. He just didn’t blow me away like Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway! I thought everyone else did a spectacular job. Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop instantly brought me to tears and Gavroche’s opening scene was amazing. I liked how when the movie deviated from the musical it was sometimes a teensy bit closer to the book.

    Now, about Gerard Butler… He was supposed to be playing an angel of music but he couldn’t hit the notes, so that’s unforgivable ;). Still, if a movie has a large quantity of beautiful scenery and lavish costumes, I’m there!

    • Hannah says:

      That is fair. I think I only really paid tons of attention to him was because people had been premeditating his inadequacy.

      See, I totally agree that he couldn’t sing great… but for some inexplicable reason I liked him. Disclaimer: the movie was my first introduction to the story and music, thus I had no prior obsession with the musical phantom. When I heard him, I was kind of like ” well obviously he can’t sing great — he’s missing half his face, which probably impacts things.” : ) And yes, costumes cover a multitude of sins.

  8. Jeanne Sasser says:

    I was a Crowe nay-sayer at the beginning (before you go all caps on me, hear me out). I have always loved the character’s traditional cadence in “Confrontation” and when I heard my beloved song in the film’s soundtrack, I was non-plussed to say the least.

    And then I saw it in theaters. That scene gave me chills. The power really came through with the cinematography and I found myself liking Crowe much more. By the end of the movie, his interpretation reminded me of what Anne Hathaway had said in one of her interviews, that “[There] seemed to be something selfish about going for the pretty version.”

    As much as I love the many traditional interpretations I have witnessed, Crowe’s performance struck me on such a raw, emotional plane that I couldn’t even keep it together and was sniffling, tearing up, and in the end sobbing when his body hit the water.

    I can’t wait to see this again, both in the theater and in the privacy of my own home.

    I’m a Crowe convert and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

    What were your thoughts on the Thernadiers?

    • Hannah says:

      So glad you’re a convert! And YES, Anne Hathaway put it perfectly. So unfair to clean it up.

      As for the Thernadiers, they were actually teh weak spot for me, or more specifically she was. Having one foreign accent in the whole thing was distracting and I just didn’t find him as enjoyable as I normally find that role. However, I kind of loved her and I kept on wanting to scream ” BELLATRIX LESTRANGE,” which for some reason made me love her even more.

  9. abby hummel says:

    As a musician, I especially appreciated the “rawness” of the singing. It came across as much more believable than a typical musical. Can everyone sing opera? No. Can everyone sing? Mostly, yes. So it’s easier to see yourself in a musical like this than one on Broadway.

    I wanted to see more emotion in R. Crowe’s face. But maybe lacking emotion was kind of the point. But I thought his singing was relatively fine, and like you said, if you can sing that part as it was originally intended, you’re probably healthy enough to avoid committing suicide.

    And yes, I thought the same thing about the coffin-ish prostitute bed. I cried when Fantine was in there.

    • Hannah says:

      Mooossssssttttttt people can sing… I might be the exception. Though that has not stopped me from BELTING OUT ALL THE LYRICS in the car. Poor James.

      • abby hummel says:

        The fact that you can belt out lyrics in the car proves my point. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it is physically possible for 99% of people to sing. ;) Love you!

  10. This might have some of the least pretty extras in the a film that I can think of. Bold choices by Hooper that some will applaud and some will run away from. Check out my review http://amandalovesmovies.com/2013/01/02/les-miserables/

  11. Sharon says:

    We can’t be friends anymore. Not because of your defense of Russell Crowe, which I already knew about and decided to forgive (after reflection and much, much more discussion of the issue, I have decided that his lack of facial expression/passionate acting offended me more than the style of his singing. Also, have you seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n51PtM7sEVU ), but because you have seen Les Mis live not once but THREE times, and not just three times but IN PARIS. While I have seen it zero times. This is unbearable greed.

    • Hannah says:

      It’s sad that we can’t be friends anymore because I am SUPER appreciative for that video… can’t even handle it.

      YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!!! Here are the tour dates for this year: http://www.lesmis.com/us/us-tour-dates-and-venues/

      In Paris… not going to lie, it was perfect. We couldn’t get real tickets, so we had to wait in line for the no shows, but that meant they ended up only being 20 euros… MAGIC. The other two times though, if it’s any consolation, I was pretty far away from that stage.

  12. Eleanor says:

    Loved the film, and couldn’t agree more with your post. . . except you should have called it “To love another person is to see the face of . . . Russell Crowe.” (One quibble: I think Gerard Butler was TERRIBLE as the Phantom, and that Phantom has to be a mellifluous and seductive singer for the story to work, whereas Crowe’s performance as Javert was inspired.) But yes, yes to ALL of your sentiments about Les Mis. Loved the show. Love the movie production. Great casting and great directing.

    • Hannah says:

      That is an awesome title! Would that I had been that creative when I was thinking one up last night… I hate making titles. : )

      I know in my soul that he was terrible… but for some reason I just got attached. It defies logic.

  13. hannahpugel says:

    I actually thought every actor/actress was PERFECT for their part for this remake. The casting people nailed it, for sure. I do wish that Russell Crowe would have gotten a liiiiiitle more into it. I wanted to see his rage and hatred come out more than his contemplation, but I haven’t read the book, so that’s completely opinion based.
    I grew up with the 1998 version as well and I think that cast was incredible and is still my favorite. Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Uma Thurman were just so amazing, I don’t think any other cast could ever beat their depiction.
    Last thing- Hugh Jackman’s rendition of “What Have I Done?” was ABSOLUTELY. INCRDEIBLE.

  14. Beegee Brown says:

    I love your commentary, because I completely agree with you. (By the way I am a friend of your dad from Asbury). My daughter- the musical theater triple threat- pointed out the rawness of Crowe’s depiction helped express his incessant turmoil. Haunted by his past, and trapped in his present- he can only despise Valjean who is growing in grace as a man. I hope his portrayal of Javert will come to be classic to Les Mis devotees.

    • Hannah says:

      I have a feeling that this remake will not only revive any diminishing love for this musical (if there WAS even any) but will also become one of the ways lots of people learn to love it, as it is much cheaper to see the movie than go to the play. : )

  15. Jeremy says:

    What a great point you make about having a right to write a review about the film, since you are very familiar with the source material. I think that a lot of film reviewers are not, and judge the closeness or the realness of it as a film alone, which is not fair. I love how you pointed out that the closeups showed the sheer grittiness of Hugo’s characters. I personally loved the film and thought those choices were spot on. But then again, I’m more drawn to characters and acting than I am to pretty landscapes and scenery.

    • Hannah says:

      I can be won over by prettiness as well. : )

      I am by no means an expert, but I do love it, and devoured it as much as a could, which is a good place to start for critiquing. Critiques birthed from love are more helpful, in my opinion.

  16. Amanda says:

    I feel bewildered by Russel Crowe’s performance. I didn’t think he had the strong, commanding presence that Javert should have. He seemed almost nervous. But if I could ever excuse nerves in a professional actor, it would be in this circumstance, because there is (and should be) some INTENSE PRESSURE on that cast. I wasn’t thrilled with his acting, but I forgive him.

    And oh, Anne Hathaway. ANNE HATHAWAY. Pretty sure she is actually Fantine.

  17. Becky says:

    Enjoyed reading your review! I am excited for this film to come out on DVD, so I can finally watch it. It’s pretty hard to get out to the movies with Susie right now. Robbie and I got to go see The Hobbit over Christmas because my mom and brother watched Susie, but paying for a babysitter and movie tickets are a little out of our budget right now. :)

    • Hannah says:

      If I was near you, I would totally watch sweet little Susie so you could see it!!! Of course, watching it at home will be even better because then you can pause it and cry. ; )

  18. Gillian says:

    I admit it. I bawled my way through most of the film. I first met and fell in love with the music when I was 9 years old, and my best friend and I listened to it over and over while we read the entire book (unabridged.) So I’ve loved it for a good long time now, but I’ve never seen the musical, just listened to the soundtrack. I LOVED the film (and I’m an opera singer in training, so everyone seems to expect me to dislike some of the singing, especially Russell Crowe. Honestly the only person whose singing I didn’t care for was Amanda Seyfried – she sounds like a chipmunk, and there’s no dramatic reason for her lack of skill, the way there is for Javert.)

    • Hannah says:

      I’m glad that you had the appropriate response of TEARS. I also wasn’t crazy about Amanda’s singing, but I always feel like Cosette is kind of breathy and annoying anyways, so it didn’t bother me too much.

  19. bkjergaard says:

    So…I had never seen the musical version. I was brought up on ye olde Liam Neeson version with Uma Thurman and Geoffrey Rush. And I read the novel in preparation. I was majorly let down. I had no idea there would be that much singing! This is my own fault entirely, but it caused me to start having a crisis of belief. Do I really like musicals? I’m still wondering…

    • Hannah says:

      You are the only person on the planet who was let down because there was so much singing. Don’t even know how to respond. But I appreciate your honesty. : )

  20. Terpsichore says:

    So I finally saw it on Friday. Everyone praised Anne Hathaway to the skies and condemned Russell Crowe to the depths, which meant neither of them affected/offended me quite as much as they would have, had I gone in without expectations.

    Here’s the thing about my Les Mis [in]experience: I’m familiar with perhaps half, perhaps 2/3rds of the Broadway Cast recording. I read about 130 pages of the unabridged book before something shiny made me put it down. Therefore I was wholly unprepared for the fate of Gavroche and Eponine (but knew enough to mourn the loss of the line “Get out, ‘Ponine, you might get shot!” somehow (they DID leave that line out, right?)). So yeah, waterworks, par for the Joy course.

    What I didn’t quite understand was Javert’s impetus to commit suicide. My roommate explained it as “His view of the world is an unbreakable dichotomy, with an unchanged, unchanging Valjean on one side (evil) and himself, unchanged and unchanging, on the other (good). Valjean showing him mercy indicates that somehow *Valjean* is on the side of goodness; therefore Javert is on the side of evil and cannot abide it.” Does that sound right? Have you further light to shed? (Has this already prompted the writing of many an essay/book you could direct me to instead?)

    Have to say, I walked out of the theater wishing there were more musicals to be seen there.

    • Hannah says:

      My short version is: yes. To everything. Meaning yes, they left some out, but I didn’t mind. And yes, Javert is just so consumed with justice that he can’t handle mercy, thus when it is extended to him, he freaks out and his world crumbles… for lack of a better description.

      So so glad that you saw it and cried!!! That is the very best of all possible responses.

      Also, shiny things distract me away from 95% of what I set out to do in life. : )

  21. I have enjoyed immensely all the comments–reminds me of teaching the novel to my high school students (all 1200 pages) and then taking them to the show on Broadway, a show that I have seen more than 20 times in the US and once in the West End–the realism of the movie performances is admirable on all counts, even Crowe’s–not the perfect singer, but I liked him more on a second viewing–the angst before the suicide was conveyed powerfully–the story of one man’s redemption through an act of mercy is entirely believable for anyone who knows himself a sinner and has undergone contrition and Valjean’s “forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory” is a final recognition of his total dependence on God’s grace–in the book, as he dies he is asked whether he wants a priest and he responds that he has one–the bishop is an essential part of his life and death and to have him on the stage/screen in place of Eponine is a major improvement over the stage version, one I hope will be adopted the next time there is a revival on Broadway–and it is not just that Anne Hatheway sells “I Dreamed a Dream,” but that she conveys the essential misery of the life of a prostitute–but that, too, is a life that can be redeemed, witness also Sonia in The Brothers Karamazov and Helen Archer in William Kennedy’s Ironweed–for any of you who want to pursue this response to book-novel-movie, I have written a book on the theological correspondences between the novel and the musical: To Love Another Person: A Spiritual Journey through Les Miserables (Zossima Press)–I am delighted that the new movie has revived such spirited discussion about such a significant novel and an enduring work of stage and screen–Fr. John Morrison

  22. bri says:

    Random but Hannah, Brothers K is one of my all time favorite books! It’s absolutely amazing!
    Now what I was going to say:
    I absolutely love this post and I agree with everything wholeheartedly. I know people who didn’t see the movie because they heard it was depressing and grimy and didn’t want to spend 2 hours in filth. But, it is one of the most redemptive movies (book here included of course) you will ever see. You got attached to each and every character, so it hurt every single time they got pulled away. And the end song… It’s like the whole movie was a tense inhale and the end was an finally relaxed exhale breath. oh the goosebumps.

  23. Danny Kam says:

    I think the pretty / ugly dichotomy is a false one. Javert is supposed to be, in my opinion, a cold, calculating prefect who enforces the law at all costs. I just didn’t feel that in Javert. The plot needs to have arcs and I felt like like the movie was sung in such a way that was all downhill which made the ending triumph come a little too late because I had already drowned in too much sadness. I love the musical and they just butchered it.

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