Transforming one’s life is tough enough. What’s worse is the backlash from people who, out of self-interest, preferred you the old way. That’s pretty much the idea behind Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables,” the extravagant musical film based on the theatrical musical rooted in Victor Hugo’s novel.
The story, set in 18th century France during revolutionary times, is simple enough. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a thief, has just been released from jail after serving a 19-year sentence. A free man, he immediately reverts to stealing. However, after finding himself on the receiving end of a stunning act of kindness, he commits to turning over a new leaf and tears up his parole document – an act which makes him a target for re-arrest. He heads for a new town, changes his name, becomes its mayor and prospers. But all the while, the authorities – in the person of his former jailer and nemesis Javert (Russell Crowe) – has been hot on Valjean’s trail to drag him back to the hoosegow.
Overall “Les Misérables” is Valjean’s story of personal transformation, which falls under Pluto’s aegis. But the movie’s core themes, central to Valjean’s development, are pure, unadulterated Saturn: survival, duty, self-identity and redefining oneself, living life by the rules, and embracing fatherhood literally and figuratively.
The kid in the picture is Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette (played as a young woman by Amanda Seyfried). Cosette’s mother Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway, who sings the film’s showstopping “I Dreamed a Dream”) was one of Valjean’s factory workers. Valjean’s also feels responsible for a group of idealistic young men and women, led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne) – he happens to be in love with Cosette – all eager to bring down the monarchy.
But ultimately it all boils down to Javert’s refusal to acknowledge that deep change is possible for Valjean. Of course, Javert’s ingrained belief that one’s destiny is permanent is something he simply projects onto his perceived foe, until Valjean’s forgiveness and offers of freedom to Javert become unbearable, akin to death itself.
In the end, the newly married Cosette and Marius ask Valjean to serve as both their fathers. But his obligations as patriarch – a bit of karma stemming from his lack of awareness about Fantine’s plight many years earlier – may have finally come to an end.
With lots of story and more than three dozen songs to deliver, “Les Misérables” has a run time of nearly three hours. However, its Saturnine lessons on self-mastery and achieving grace couldn’t be more transparent or compact.
Rating: ♄ (Saturn)