I finally got around to watching Tom Hooper’s Les Mis while vacationing last week–shame on me, I know–but what a treat. As others have noted, the director somehow succeeded in making an adaptation that is both faithful and daring at the same time. The final product transcends almost all of the Hollywood-isms that could have so easily derailed it, which is probably as much a testament to Hooper’s skill/vision as the timeless strength of the material. Hugh Jackman really pulls things off, especially in the film’s final act, and Sacha Baron Cohen proves a pleasant surprise. No mean feat for such a well-worn story to yield so much fresh feeling (and tears). Yet as much as I hate to admit it, there were a handful of instances where production choices wrenched me out of the narrative, and they all had to do with Russell Crowe’s, er, incongruous vocal ability. Surely I’m not the only one who felt his version of Javert’s final scene left something to be desired? Dying for the abreactive fix his performance denied me, I turned to the final chapters of the book, which I hadn’t revisited since my initial reading well over a decade ago, when let’s just say the moral and spiritual dynamics of the inspector’s breakdown wouldn’t have had as much purchase, personally. If Les Mis weren’t a bit ‘overplayed’ at the moment, the entire chapter (“Javert Off The Track”) would be worth posting, as it contains what must be the most vivid and precise a depiction of the “end of the law”–in psychological terms–one could ever hope to find. So consider this a last gasp of Les Mis love for the time being (thankfully, Hunchback is still fair game):
A beneficent malefactor, a compassionate convict, kind, helpful, clement, returning good for evil, returning pardon for hatred, loving pity rather than vengeance, preferring to destroy himself than destroy his enemy, saving the one who had struck him, kneeling on the heights of virtue, nearer angels than men. Javert was compelled to acknowledge that this monster existed. This could not go on…
His ultimate anguish was the loss of all certainty. He felt uprooted. The code was no longer anything but a stump in his hand. He was dealing with scruples of an unknown species. Within him there was a revelation of feeling entirely distinct from the declarations of the law, his only standard hitherto. To retain his old virtue, that no longer sufficed. An entire order of unexpected facts rose and took control of him. An entire new world appeared to his soul; favor accepted and returned, devotion, compassion, indulgence, acts of violence committed by pity on austerity, respect of persons, no more final condemnation, no more damnation, the possibility of a tear in the eye of the law, a mysterious justice according to God going counter to justice according to men. In the darkness he could see the fearful rising of an unknown moral sun; he was was horrified and blinded by it. An owl compelled to an eagle’s gaze.
He said to himself that it was true then, that there were exceptions, that authority might be taken aback, that rules might stop short before a fact, that everything was not framed in the text of the code, that the unforeseen might be obeyed, that the virtue of a convict might set a snare for the virtue of a functionary, that the monstrous might be divine, that destiny had such ambushes as these, and he thought with despair that even he had not been proof against surprise. (pgs. 1322-1324)