Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Les Miserables: A comparative analysis.

The following article was rejected by the content site to which I submit some of my articles so I hope my blog audience will enjoy it instead:

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, anyone who has ever watched the movie and read the book knows this to be false. In most instances the movie is unable to capture the entire book because if they left everything in, the movie would be much too long. But then there is the creative license the screenwriter takes while writing the script for the movie, sometimes stories lose key elements this way. The 2012 musical version of Les Miserables is no different in this regard, much was left out. The book was longer than most books so that much was to be expected. Here is a comparative analysis of the 2012 Les Miserables and the novel written by Victor Hugo.

The movie certainly captures the essence of the feeling in the book by showing the despair of each of the characters. It even leaves in an important character previous movies have cut out: Eponine Threnardier. Each of the songs helps to convey this despair quite wonderfully. The first song helps the viewer to feel the despair of the galley and how the galley slave becomes the hardened criminal. The book explains that Jean Valjean went there for stealing a loaf of bread and 19 years made him a hardened criminal. The exchange between Javert and Valjean helps to convey Javert’s unfeeling attitude towards the prisoners as well.

One thing the movie fails to capture is the extreme benevolence of the bishop. For instance, in the movie he is already eating on the silver when Jean Valjean shows up. However, in the book he orders the maid to get out the fine silver because they have a guest. Also, Jean Valjean is not open about who he is with the bishop in the movie, but in the book he practically spits the information at him in hopes that he will turn him out as everyone else has because he is so unaccustomed to the kindness of this strangers. It captures well the conflict of emotions Jean Valjean has upon realizing what the bishop has done for him, though.

The book devoted a lot of time in helping to build the bishop’s character because he ended up playing a huge role in the life of Jean Valjean but the movie only gives him a passing role. The movie does show the candlesticks which he has kept to remember the gesture, however.

Also unclear by watching the movie is why Fantine would leave her beloved child behind, especially with such horrid people. The book explains this so much better. Perhaps the most moving song in the movie is Fantine’s cry of despair: I dreamed a dream. This does a good job of capturing the feeling she held for the man who fathered Cossette and why she tried for so long to keep herself pure for him.

Another thing the movie does well is to show how despicable the Threnardiers are. One thing the movie does not capture about them is how horribly they treated Cossette even while Fantine was sending them money and how willing they were to hand her over to some pervert (which is what they first thought when Jean Valjean showed up) if they thought they could get money out of the deal. That being said, they did pretend they had affection for the girl to get more money just as they did in the book.

Most of the conflicts Jean Valjean goes through are well represented in the movie: right after the bishop has just let him go, when he first sees Javert as Monseiur le Mayor, and when it comes to saving the innocent man whose crime of stealing apples would have gotten him five years tops (although that part was left out of the movie) from serving a life sentence. But the conflict regarding what to do about Marius, is not as well represented. It shows him going as though he has already made up his mind, when in the book he had not quite decided what to do at that point.

In fact most of the things about Marius are not very well represented by the movie. It is unclear why Marius is a revolutionary when he has a rich family. In the book, Marius thinks nothing of these things until he learns about his father. He’s always wondered why his father has stayed away and hated him for it. But as his father lies dying, Marius learns that he has always been around, but stayed at a distance because of his grandfather. Marius has a rich grandfather who disapproves of the choice his daughter made in a husband. Once his daughter was dead, the grandfather took in Marius, but only on the condition that his father stay away. After this, Marius decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a revolutionary. Also missing from the movie is the related scene where his father praises Threnardier who “saved his live” during the war. In actuality Threnardier was planning on robbing a dead man but mistakenly pulled a living one from the scene of battle. This makes it all the more potent when Threnardier comes to extort money from Marius about Jean Valjean.

In the movie Marius just sees Cossette one day and falls in love, this is similar to what happened in the book, but not quite. As Marius lives in a shanty near the place where Cossette and Jean Valjean live right after they leave the convent, they see them every once in a while together and dub them Mr. White and Miss Black because Cossette is dressed all in black because she is in mourning for a nun who died. Then, later when Cossette has blossomed into a beautiful woman, Marius sees her and falls in love and they flirt from a distance for quite some time before they actually meet.

Also missing from the movie is the two years Jean Valjean went back to the Galley and how he escaped by feigning death. In the movie he goes to get Cossette right away, but in the book she spent two years as the Threnardier’s slave after her mother died. And once Cossette and Marius are married in the book it is then that Marius slowly edges Jean Valjean out of her life because of his mistaken opinions based on Valjean’s confession.

The movie does a good job of showing Javert’s attitude towards the law and lawbreakers and in his final song, the line “he’s killed me even so” is as potent a revelation of his inability to reconcile Valjean’s kindness as anything. The movie does a good job with the deathbed visions Valjean has of Fantine and the Bishop. It ends on a triumphant note as all the dead sing the call to arms that the revolutionaries sang and Valjean joins in.

Another thing the movie does a good job of is portraying Eponine’s love for Marius and why she would risk her life for him. Also in the movie is Gavroche, although his relationship to Eponine is never revealed. In the book there were also two more brothers and a sister. Gavroche was the only father the younger two had known, being on the street since they were very young. This also served to show how despicable the parents really were. The book reveals that Mrs. Threnardier loved her daughters and spoiled them but that she didn’t care at all about her sons.

All the actors do a remarkable job of moving the audience to care about the characters. It is through songs about the past that the movie covers many aspects of the book that have not been included in previous attempts. So with all the areas where the movie does not quite do the book justice, it is still the best Hollywood rendition of Les Miserables that has been made thus far.

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