I have never seen Les Miserables staged. I’ve never even read the book. It may be sad, I know, but I think it helped me enjoy the film more, because I can only approach it as a film, and not as an adaptation from a stage musical that’s based on a book, and I was free to enjoy all its magic, and all the surprises it revealed as it unfolded. I’ve seen the movie twice already, and the music has taken residence in my head. There’s so much to think about still — the material is so rich, and there’s a lot more to mine after.
This morning got me thinking of the two main male characters, Valjean and Javert, Victor Hugo’s brilliantly crafted characters that make us question what is good and bad, lawful and unlawful, our very concept of justice.
Many see Javert as the villain in Les Miserables. Well, maybe he is, insofar as he is antagonist to protagonist Valjean. But he is not “bad” — he is not motivated by evil, hate, or meanness. His motivated by his sense of duty and his concept of right and wrong. He is earnest in what he sees as fighting for good. He is good at his job, firm and unyielding in his beliefs and convictions. He doesn’t have the smug self-righteousness and of Pharisees, just unshakeable certainty in what was right. It is easy to be sympathetic to him. Even Jean Valjean got what he stood for. In another story he could very well be an awesome protagonist — a respected sheriff in a Western, a prosecutor in Law & Order, Tommy Lee Jones’s character in U.S. Marshals.
Javert’s firmness hardened to rigidity, and it was his undoing. He prized order above all, the order that was job was to keep. Everything must stay in its place. Everything in black and white. No exceptions, no room for adjustments, for this meant chaos for him. No room for doubt, no place for mercy and compassion. And so when faced with a criminal’s act of goodness towards him, his world of order unraveled into a cesspool of chaos. He found himself doing the unforgiveable in letting Valjean go. His blacks and whites blurring into murky gradations of gray, his certainties dissolving into doubts, the law he held aloft he found lacking, caving in to the superiority of forgiveness. His ordered life became a mess, and that is hell as far as he was concerned, from which his only escape was death. My heart broke for this man.
Even with Russel Crowe’s mediocre portrayal of Javert in the movie, I can’t help but feel for this character, this poor, sad, broken man.
Sometimes I miss it.
I miss working with nutty, quirky, artistic types. I miss the heart-thumping adrenaline rush in the mad scramble to meet a deadline or pitch for a new account. And sometimes I miss the late nights that go on till morning.
I miss comparing battle scars. How many revisions, how many tissue ideas, how many concepts got trashed.
I don’t miss the insecurity, the self-doubt, the lack of control.
And a couple of weeks ago I read this blog entry by this Kiwi art director Linds Redding, whose lesson in perspective reflected on how insignificant it all was in the greater scheme of things, in the life and death arena.