Once upon a time, I took a summer to read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – the beastly, unabridged version, in fact. I was inspired by my love for classic literature, my adoration of the musical tale, and the sense of accomplishment I knew I would feel after making it through the entire novel. Looking back, I probably should have just read the abridged version – I really did not care much for Hugo’s tangents about the Paris sewage system and the Battle of Waterloo – but at least I read it in English and not the original French? Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, however, maybe not as much as the musical…
Les Misérables, the musical, is incredible. Being the sucker for tragedy that I am, I adore the play with all its heartbreaking plots and subplots. I spent a few angsty years as a teenager belting out “On My Own” much too often and imagining myself as Éponine in all her depressing, unrequited love inspired glory (okay, maybe I still do this sometimes…). After they announced the latest cinematic adaptation of Les Mis, I spent many months anxiously awaiting the release.
Now, of course, I absolutely adored the film and spent a wonderful three hours in the theater having to restrain myself from singing along with all the songs; however, I also was bemused by my friend’s reaction to the film. My friend that I saw the film with was only vaguely familiar with the some of the songs, but had never really experienced the story. For those who are also not familiar, the plot revolves around Jean Valjean, a man who breaks his parole after having spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Police officer Javert makes it his obsession to track down Valjean for the rest of his life to restore “justice.” My friend could not get over the ridiculousness of this idea, and she spent much of the film rolling her eyes and letting sighs of exasperation slip out.
So, if you don’t become too engrossed in the music to appreciate the finer workings of Les Mis’s plotline, it is quite interesting to think about past and previous systems of law and order. The American legal system is far from perfect, but it’s really all too easy to take it for granted when comparing to the past, or even to ideas of justice in other modern-day cultures. I personally thought about laws, like the “three-strikes rule,” that echo this punishment-heavy law enforcement in contrast to rehabilitating ones. Anyways, enough of my random musings about Les Mis. In the end, I found this latest incarnation to be a fantastic adaptation of the classic novel (definitely worthy of the Oscar noms) that brings about the interesting opportunity to look not only at the modern version’s faithfulness to the original, but also at law and society.
By Ashley Huggins