Today I watched Les Misérables. Because I wasn’t feeling very well and it’s a very comforting movie.
Not really. But here’s what it is: a story that makes you feel insignificant and empowered all at the same time.
Here’s the pattern I noticed in the movie this time that leads me to such a conclusion (by the way, this is a story from which a new insight can be gained every time you return to it. That is why it is classic literature).
Almost all the characters spend their lives with some kind of devotion. Let me enumerate:
1. Javert. Javert is devoted to justice. There is no grey in his world. There is wrong, which must be punished, and right, which must be rewarded. The end.
2. Cosette. She is devoted to peace. She seeks it as a child, and works to keep it as she grows up. She wants to have a peaceful, quiet life with those she loves.
3. Marius. Marius is devoted to ideals. He leaves his family for them. He’s willing to die for them. He finds new life in Cosette through them, and creates a safe life for her because of them.
4. Eponine. Devoted to love. She craves it from her parents as a child. She is willing to put herself aside for it. And die for it.
5. Enjolras. (and the barricade boys) Devoted to freedom. Again, willing to die for it. Their definition of freedom is closely linked to equality.
Now, to talk about the two (well, three) characters that I think are the most interesting in their devotion.
The Thenardiers. They are devoted to themselves. Yes, that means they are devoted to each other, but not in a happily married couple way. They are willing to break and bend any rule to get gain, but they are also quick to surrender if they feel threatened. They stand up for nothing, and are constantly on the run – from the law, from the truth, from difficulties, from anything even slightly unpleasant. They adapt easily, but learn nothing along the way.
Jean Valjean. His devotion changes throughout the story. First, he is devoted to hate. Then through the sweet mercy of a priest, his devotion changes to God. Then every major change in his life adds another devotion: Cosette adds the devotion to protection, Javert adds the devotion to forgiveness, Marius adds the devotion to service. In actuality, these are all extensions of a devotion to God. Someone who really knows and understands God will exemplify all of these things.
Jean Valjean is constantly running to save his life, just like the Thenardiers. But with one major difference: he is not running to save his life for himself. He is running to save himself to serve those he loves. He never backs down from something that is asked of him. He never turns away from his moral duty. He never shirks responsibility for who he is and what he’s done. He walks with his head high and conscience clear, despite the condemnation that some would thrust upon him.
There was a line that hit me, like I’d never heard it before:
It is time for us all to decide who we are (from Red and Black – The ABC Cafe)
Who am I? Am I as valiant as Jean Valjean? No, I’m not, but I should be.
What is my devotion right now, and is that what I really want it to be? What about yours?
Just like the characters in Les Mis, we can be tossed aside like we’re nothing, or we can really create ourselves as nothing (like the Thenardiers), or, we can choose a worthy devotion and give ourselves up to it. It makes you feel insignificant, because one person is really just a person, who doesn’t accomplish much. It’s empowering because one person who is dedicated to a mission that’s bigger than themselves…that person can change the world.