The Gospel According to Victor Hugo (And Tom Hooper)


The film world is abuzz with the release of a big-screen adaptation of the musical, Les Miserables. Raves, reviews, reflections, and ridicule all describe some of the reactions to directors Tom Hooper's interpretation of Victor Hugo's much longer, music-less novel. Personally, I could not wait to get a ticket to the movie. I fell in love with this story of liberation the first time I saw a live production in 1998. And if this blog post were a movie review, it would be among the "raves." What I loved most about this take was a simple one. Even though the set design, costumes, and score were "titanic" in production, Tom Hooper made a decision free of special effects and glitz.

At many points during the film, the camera was still. It lingered on the actors' faces. It let them not just sing or tell the story but to embody the story's emotions.

As seen in the above photo of Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, the camera would often zoom in on the actors' faces as they sang monologues. The only movements were in the expressions of their faces and bodies. As Valjean faces a crisis of character, he softly sings, "If I speak, I am condemned / If I stay silent, I am damned / Who am I?....." I could see the question in Hugh Jackman's eyes as much as hear them from his lips. When Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, laments her lost dreams, I cried with her because the words were alive in her anguished face as she sang, "I had a dream my life would be / So different from this hell I'm living/ So different now from what it seemed / Now life has killed the dream I dreamed." The same can be said of pieces sung by Eponine, Marius, Javert, and many more characters. The medium of film for Les Miserables has allowed us as the audience to experience what we cannot see on a stage. We become closer to the story simply by being still, listening, and watching. The words of songs take on human flesh. In that embodiment, we can't help but see another Incarnation.*

Every year, we hear the story of the Word becoming flesh. But sometimes we stop the Christmas story there. We stop at the manger. We celebrate the birth and move on. We ignore the mysterious joy of that same Word dwelling among us, living with us, being with us. We move the camera around in our hustle and bustle to return to daily life. What if we started this new year with a slowing down? What if we made decisions to study the Bible with our full attention, carving out time to sit with the Word and watching it come alive as Les Miserables came alive with its still camera? We would gain new insight. We would see the Word becoming flesh -- and staying with us.

Let us be open to new interpretations not just of stories but also of Scripture. Let us linger with the Word. Let us get up close and personal with a God who desires to be close to us. And let us see what he reveals as we sing our way through this new year.

all good things,
Pastor Darian

* http://www.stlyrics.com/l/lesmiserables.htm