Hi everyone, Rob here. On Saturday night I went to see the movie Les Miserables. I cried. It was beautiful, yet shocking. It was confronting, yet comforting. It was the gospel. It was the hope, the victory and the love of Christ. It was a witness to the fact that Jesus has given us brand new hearts and there is no darkness that his light can’t overcome. It was also beautiful music and songs, powerful acting and a timeless story of redemption.
This is not a review and you can find plot summaries elsewhere. It is a reflection on what God was trying to tell me through my tears. Often we just write off our emotions as if there’s nothing significant in them. We dismiss our flashes of anger and fail to recognise the unhealed wound that is triggering them. We have moments of joy and cynically tell ourselves that it won’t last. Or we have tears and tell ourselves to get it together. Too often we fear the vulnerability that happens when emotions surface. But in those moments God is talking.
I was softened up for the movie by the trailer for the film Impossible, which traces the survival of a family hit by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. My response as a husband and father was that of deep compassion, knowing that I too would do anything to keep my family together in a tragedy like that. But as for Les Miserables, where do I begin? There was Anne Hathaway’s stunning portayal of Fantine, the single mother driven into desperate poverty and prostitution by a lecherous foreman. As she sings I Dreamed a Dream with her shame and pain written all over her face, I cried. Tears came because people suffer like that still. People still have their dreams stolen because of the immense cruelty that exists in our fallen and broken world. I’m sure God cries at that too.
While epic songs like On my Own and Empty Chairs and Empty Tables were moving as Eponine and Marius grieved for lost love and lost friends, it was Hugh Jackman’s portayal of Jean Valjean that provided the emotional heart of the movie. Imprisoned for stealing bread and subsequently for trying to escape, he is paroled and shunned by society. Taken in by a kindly bishop, he steals the home’s silver and takes off. Arrested again, the bishop insists the silver was a gift and then gives him the candlesticks, telling Valjean that he’s “purchased his soul for God.” Valjean takes this grace to heart, takes on a new identity and lives a new life, becoming a respected factory owner and mayor. He even becomes a father as he takes in Fantine’s daughter Cosette in response to the unintentional part he played in Fantine’s demise. Discovered and then hounded by Inspector Javert (played by Russell Crowe), the rest of the film plays out as a commentary of the power of grace and love over legalism and hate. All this is set against a background of oppression and revolutionary zeal that makes you long for the true justice that only Christ can bring.
What is clear by the end of the movie is that Javert is wrong. He accused Valjean of never being able to change, but Valjean’s new heart of love radiates through the film, and especially at the end as he faces his death. His thankfulness to God for changing his heart from hate to love brings tears. Why? Because that’s our story too. Jesus Christ has given us a new heart. We can now live and love in his name and power. We can be a force for good and not for harm. We can live with hope and not despair. We can end our days with our hearts warm and grateful, knowing that we are going home. The movie ends with a song of victory over the forces of death and war and evil. God wins. Grace wins. Love wins. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. Let the tears flow and the deep truth of Jesus soak into your hearts.