Last night I went to go watch Les Miserables in theaters. What can I say about this movie? It was one of the first movies I’ve seen in a long time that I would honestly call a masterpiece. I know that word gets thrown around by critics all the time and it has lost its meaning because of that but it’s true Les Miserables was a cinematic masterpiece. When the movie opened and the music swelled in the theater I actually whispered “wow”. It was an overwhelming feeling that sweeps you into the world of Les Mis and pulls you down a path of pain (lots and lots of pain), redemption, hope, love, and freedom.
The thing to know if you want to see Les Miserables is that it’s not the polished musical that people might expect. Les Mis is the first movie musical that records the music while they are acting. Traditionally movie musicals prerecord the music with the people singing and then later when filming the actor mouths what he/she has sung earlier. This gives us the polished perfect singing we usually expect in a musical (it also explains why these people never run out of breath when doing difficult dance routines and “singing”). Movie musicals also usually have acting and then people randomly burst into song. Les Mis doesn’t do that, for one it’s an opera and for those who don’t know what that is it means they sing the whole time, no talking. Don’t let that scare you though the music is fantastic, think new operas like Repo! The Genetic Opera not old ones like Carmen (I’m not saying anything against old operas I like them but they can be a bit inaccessible to a younger generation who can’t understand or associate with them).
It was a scary thing (and a really ballsy move) for the makers of the movie to do, record the singing while it was happening in the movie, it could have gone so very wrong very quickly. Like Javert does in the movie, Les Mis the entire time was walking a dangerous road on the edge of a steep fall and one wrong step would have led to a terrible death. Though the movie had some close calls they pulled it off beautifully and the fact that Les Miserables was an opera actually played into the favor of this new way of making a movie musical. The songs weren’t polished, they felt real and you weren’t yanked out of the reality of the movie because they all of a sudden burst into song. You were kept there and the way the actors took the songs and made them their own gave a sense of familiarity of a beloved musical but also made you feel the raw harshness and fragility of the world of Les Miserables. It stripped away the safe boundary you are given with a stage musical or a movie musical because it took away the feeling of “it’s only a musical” and replaced that with the a heavy realism that some people might not be able to handle.
One of the pleasant surprises of the movie was Russel Crowe as Javert. Russel Crowe has a beautiful singing voice and I didn’t know that before this movie so it was a nice little tidbit of ‘well how about that’. They cast this movie very well Hugh Jackman played the lead of Jean Valjean wonderfully (I only had issues with one of his songs but it was a minor nitpick), Anne Hathaway’s Fantine made me weep (in the good way), and while I felt that Amanda Seyfried’s voice was a bit thin for the part of the elder Cosette it wasn’t unpleasant (plus she’s pretty). The rest of the cast played their parts well and I was partial to the girl who played Eponine, Samantha Barks, she was definitely one of my favorite characters.
This movie I would suggest to anyone who loves music and has any form of human emotion. Les Miserables is a moving musical that took risky chances that paid off well and highlighted well the emotions of a tumultuous time. These make you feel for them even though you know they are probably doomed and despite that you hope for them. That’s what I loved most about this movie, it is one of the most depressing things ever and yet it’s so very human in the way it hopes in impossible circumstances, in the way that people even after being defeated have the courage to continue to dream and to fight for a better future. I left the theater eyes swollen from tears (I cried the entire end of the movie and I don’t usually cry in theaters) my heart was heavy from all of the heart-wrenching feels I had just been put through and yet I also had this undeniable feeling like a fire had been lit in me and that no matter what I should never give up on my dreams.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!