Les Miserables

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Based on the book by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, Les Misérables has been running as a musical on the London stage since 1985. It is without doubt one of the world’s most popular stage productions, and has toured the far corners of the globe with its powerful, haunting music and deeply human, bitter-sweet story. A few years ago it was brought to life on film in an exciting production which featured a stellar cast including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

Against the background of social unrest in 19th Century France, Jackman brings to screen the tortured soul of Jean Valjean, a French convict of nineteen years, newly released from prison. Life is hard for an ex-convict, and he steals from the first person who is kind to him, a bishop. Threatened with re-arrest, Valjean is startled when the bishop rescues him and gives him a new start in life. This experience of mercy redefines Valjean and he attempts to help the destitute Fantine and her daughter Cosette, all the while attempting to escape the determinedly ruthless Javert.

Exploring the themes of passion, sacrifice, love, justice and redemption, Les Misérables sings the human story with an impact that is timeless.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Fresh Starts:

  1. Javert thought his way of justice was the way of God. He could not accept Valjean’s generosity towards him so he never experienced a fresh start. Indeed he did not believe a person could change. What holds us back from new beginnings? How can we help people who are holding back from a fresh start in their life?
  2. Jesus said that we are forgiven as we forgive others. Valjean demonstrated his grasp of this command from Jesus when he released Javert. But offering forgiveness to another can be extremely difficult, especially towards those who may have hurt or deceived us. How can we move towards this? `Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ Luke 11:4
  3. Do we need to balance forgiveness and protecting ourselves (or others)? How do we do this?
  4. Valjean’s life was transformed by his response to the mercy offered by the Bishop of Digne. The ultimate fresh start for Christians is, of course, the one offered by Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross. `For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
  5. What does it mean to you that Jesus died ‘to set you free’? How free are you? `if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ John 8.36
  6. The revolutionaries tried to create a fresh start for the downtrodden poor of France. How much can we create our own fresh starts – or fresh starts for others? One solution to the problem of the disparity in French society was to take up arms against the ruling elite. This happened several times, and barricades like the one in Les Misérables really were erected more than once.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Difficult Choices:

  1. Les Misérables raises questions about the nature of wrong-doing. Would you steal to save the life of a family member, as Valjean did? Was it wrong for Fantine to turn to prostitution to make ends meet? It is easy to condemn the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife for lying, cheating, and attempting blackmail, but were they just trying to survive? Does trying to make a living in desperate circumstances make what they did less wrong?
  2. Jesus said ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ Matthew 7.1. Like Javert we can also be quick to condemn others. What makes it so challenging to obey Jesus’ teaching on this? The Christian church can have a bad reputation for treatment of others. People easily refer to the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts, and the public pronouncements of judgmental preachers. It’s easy to forget the powerful influences of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce.
  3. If you had been a friend of Fantine’s, what would you have advised her to do in order to be able to care for Cosette?
  4. One of the stirring songs in Les Misérables is Red and Black, the call to arms sung by the revolutionary Enjolras. These young people decided to fight in an attempt to change the world by force. How does this compare with Christian martyrs in history and today?
  5. Fantine sings ‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’ Is this true?
  6. The people by the docks quickly condemned Fantine and she was only saved because Jean Valjean stepped in. What are the parallels with the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery? The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ John 8:3-7
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