But what surprised me most of all about Les Miz the Movie was how religious it is—though whether this fact will be acknowledged by anyone outside the religious media is a question that hangs in my brain. Is Les Miz a religious movie?
Having just read a book about Anti-Catholicism in America, I am braced for any and all Catholic images in film being targets of fun and ridicule and calumny. Here in Les Miz the Movie, instead, Catholic characters are presented from beginning to end absolutely without irony.
This is a grace.
Perhaps all of you hardened Les Miz watchers knew this, but I didn’t.
— Jean Valjean doesn’t become the hero of his own story but for the forgiveness of a Catholic priest, who lets him get away with stealing the silver.
— Fantine does not survive peacefully without the ministrations of a nursing sister in full flying-nun habit.
— Jean and Cosette find refuge in a convent where sisters in similar winged wimples are seen saying the night office.
— And the saving priest and a heavenly Fantine all reemerge and converge at the end to bless Jean’s passage, as it certainly is, into heaven.
All this is remarkable. And worthy of praise.
I've never been fond of musicals... but... I may have to make an exception. I know Mrs. Brutally Honest will enjoy it which is more reason to go.
Mr. Bull by the way has an e-book of sorts over at his place chronicling his pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It's an excellent read.
UPDATE: Deacon Greg weighs in, confirming the Catholicity of the production:
Everything you’ve heard is true.
But here a few things you may not have heard:
- Religious imagery abounds. I can’t recall a recent movie with more depictions of crosses and crucifixes; they’re on walls, altars, tombstones. The movie is replete with Catholic iconography, and even Jackman’s Jean Valjean early on bears a striking resemblance to the battered and haunted Jesus of Jim Caviezel in “Passion of the Christ.”
- The factory where Fantine (Anne Hathaway) works is devoted to the manufacture of religious items – notably, rosaries. (In the stage musical, it’s never specified.) This makes a subtle, somewhat ironic and stinging point within the plot: Fantine is cruelly fired after refusing advances from the foreman, indicating a decidedly un-Christian streak in a Christian workplace. (I know: that’s just so implausible, isn’t it?)
- These are characters who are proud to pray. They repeatedly invoke God, mentioning things like grace, forgiveness, communion, the soul. In a sense, nearly every song is a kind of prayer—a pleading to God or an expression of deep spiritual yearning. The characters wear their hearts, and their souls, on their ragged and blood-spattered sleeves.
- This is a story, at bottom, about mercy. It is about second chances – from God, and from others—and the human capacity for reinvention. Jean Valjean becomes a new man, but it is only through the tender mercies of another—the bishop who (to paraphrase) “bought his soul for God.” Valjean seeks to extend that grace to others, and therein lies the rest of the story and the driving force of his life.
- Director Hooper has found inventive ways of re-imagining the material. Watch how he stages “Master of the House” (complete with a fornicating Father Christmas!) and note, too, the way he begins “I Dreamed a Dream,” as if it were a dream — with the tragic Fantine lying in bed, coming to grips with a dream that has become, by any measure, a nightmare.
- Finally, there is one more theme that pulses through the film: the shared struggles of the human family. In sum, we need one another. The movie reminds us of the transforming power of love – “to love another person is to see the face of God,” as the musical’s most famous lyric puts it – and how that love is shared, passed on, woven into our lives through acts of tenderness, courage, sacrifice and mercy. “Will you join in our crusade?,” the revolutionaries sing at the barricades. They aren’t just asking us to take up arms against injustice; they are crying out for a revolution of another kind, one that takes a stand against indifference and cruelty and hate. The show has a message that is not far removed from the gospel — a message of abiding love, sacrifice, redemption, even resurrection. (The show’s producer Cameron Macintosh was raised Catholic; whether he realizes it or not, I suspect the story’s message connected with him in a profound and visceral way.)
There’s a lot more to chew on. But see it for yourself.