Some Afterthoughts on Les Miserables

lesmisbarricadeA militant, simply put, is somebody who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk, or who goes the full mile. – Bruno Bosteels

I saw it many times this past three months. According to my partner Sheila, the latest film adaption of Les Miserables (the one directed by Tom Hooper) basically passes off as a Hollywood extravaganza. However, it could have been better if not for the pale performance of Russell Crowe as Javert. Also there’s the case of Anne Hathaway looking too young for her role as the mother of Cosette, Fantine. Nevertheless, Hugh Jackman catches all the emotion required and seems perfect for the role of Jean Valjean. And if I have my own child, s/he shall be like Gavrosch: a remarkable example of how children should take part in the transformation of a world in which they are the worst victims.

If anything, Les Miserables is an expression of the huge impact of the French Revolution of 1789. Breaking the back of feudal power in France, the French Revolution was the Revolution and exercised direct influence on the 1832 Paris uprising which is depicted in Victor Hugo’s classic novel. It was an influence on Filipino revolutionary and founder of the Katipunan Andres Bonifacio and certainly retains its relevance to present-day Philippines where the people’s struggle to smash feudalism and attain genuine democracy continues.

The militancy of the French people as epitomized in the storming of the Bastille is the indubitable mark of later mass movements seeking radical social change – from the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian October of 1917, to the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This is the very same militancy inherited by the Filipino people in their current pursuit of genuine democracy, national liberation, and socialism.

“How long before the judgement day?”

“Before we cut the fat ones down to size?”

By the time we reach the film’s ending, we see another example of how an adaptation improves on the original. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables ends like a simple love story, thus diluting the impact of the dramatic socio-historical events that made their appearance in the novel. But Hooper’s Les Miserables ends with Jean Valjean ascending to a heavenly paradise that is presented as one big barricade. “Arise ye prisoners of starvation!” Here, all the fallen revolutionaries and downtrodden are one waving red flags and “singing the song of a people who will not be slaves again.”

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