Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
Dennis Hardin

Les Miserables

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

“Grandeur” is the one word that names the leitmotif of Ninety-Three and of all of Hugo’s novels—and of his sense of life….

The distance between his world and ours is astonishingly short—he died in 1885—but the distance between his universe and ours has to be measured in esthetic light-years…”

Ayn Rand, Introduction to Ninety-Three

The film version of Les Miserables, the musical, opens on Christmas day. Based on the previews, it almost seems as if the makers of the film appreciated the leitmotif of grandeur Ayn Rand spoke about in 1962. Is it possible that the Hollywood of today managed to bridge that gap of esthetic light years she described?

I’m optimistic. I never saw the Broadway stage version, but the silver screen is a radically different medium. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in Victor Hugo’s universe for 2 ½ hours?

It will be interesting to see.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've always found the music cheesy, but I certainly think highly of the book, and thought the Liam Neeson movie was pretty decent. An odd thing is how Hugo will put in huge digressions, like the section on Waterloo, and just barely bother to integrate it into the plot. Rand puts in speeches, Hugo essays. Hunchback was the same way ("this will kill that").

Anyway, here's a 60 Minutes segment from a few weeks ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found the Liam Neeson version pretty boring. The film butchered Hugo’s original story, and it just didn’t touch me on an emotional level. I really hope this version is more faithful to Hugo, and that the music underscores the drama and romanticism of the epic story.

I was wrong about this being a Hollywood production. Universal is distributing the film, but it was produced by Working Title Films, which is a British firm. They also did Anna Karenina, which I have not seen. (Ayn Rand despised Tolstoy, as I recall.) Another encouraging note is that the director, Tom Hooper, also worked on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series, John Adams, which was terrific.

It will be fascinating to see how the film handles the character of Enjolras, the leader of the insurrection. Broadway actor Aaron Tveit plays the role. Here’s what Barbara Branden wrote about Enjolras in Who Is Ayn Rand?:

“Among Hugo’s characters, {Ayn Rand] found her favorite in Les Miserables. It was not Jean Valjean, the leading character, nor Marius, the younger hero. It was Enjolras, the young leader of the insurrectionists, who dies fighting on the barricades in one of the most exalted and dramatically powerful scenes in all of Hugo’s novels. She regarded Marius as a weak, sentimental young man. But in Enjolras, the austere, implacable rebel—whom Hugo describes as ‘the marble lover of liberty,’ who ‘had but one passion, the right; but one thought, to remove all obstacles’—she saw the dedicated purposefulness and the intransigent love of rectitude that was the essence of her concept of human greatness.”

(WIAR, hardback version, p. 159)

As a teenager suffering through the aftermath of the communist revolution in 1920’s Russia, it was, at least in part, the vision of Enjolras that inspired Ayn Rand to fight for a better life and eventually to leave Russia behind and come to America. That is the power of romantic art.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I heard the song and think it May even top the one I thought was the best version I heard sung by Francis Rufelle, and I think it was actually sung by Hathaway herself in this film.

I might have to go and see it. I haven't seen the musical. I have read a fantastic book, not written by Hugo, but does not do a disservice to him I think, is Cosette: The Sequel to Les miserables.

http://www.amazon.com/Cosette-The-Sequel-Les-Miserables/dp/0060172223

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found the Liam Neeson version pretty boring. The film butchered Hugo’s original story, and it just didn’t touch me on an emotional level. I really hope this version is more faithful to Hugo, and that the music underscores the drama and romanticism of the epic story.

Assuming the movie follows the show it’s going to be just as condensed as the Liam Neeson movie. The only difference I can think of is the ending, the Neeson movie ended with Javert’s suicide, the show ends at Valjean’s death bed. I wouldn’t say they “butchered” it, and I felt the leads were well cast and performed well, though for some reason the total only added up to, as I said before, “pretty decent” rather than any species of “wow”.

I just saw an absolutely nasty review of the new movie on CNN.com. Time will tell. I’m not in any hurry to go see it, mainly because I don’t care for the music.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the film last night (a special Christmas Eve showing) and it is nothing short of magnificent. It is so good, in fact, that it would take an hour or two to write a full report. Perhaps the best way to convey how wonderful the film is would be to offer a few telling quotes from Kenneth Turan’s favorable review in the Los Angeles Times:

“The people who put ‘Les Miserables’ on screen dreamed a mighty dream, they really did. They dreamed of filming one of the most popular of modern theatrical musicals …in a way that had not been done before, enhancing the emotion of what was already a hugely emotional piece. And, despite some built-in obstacles, they succeeded to a surprising extent…[if] unashamed operatic-sized musicals are not your style, this ‘Les Miz’ is not going to make you happy. [NOTE: It made me ecstatic—DH]

“From it’s opening scene,…this production is visual to the max, with an epic physical scale and grandeur the play couldn’t possibly have [Emphasis added—DH]….Because it is so shameless and so popular, ‘Les Miserables’ and its ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’ theme are tailor-made for mockery.”

That last comment is Turan's cleverly obscured escape clause. He seems to be going out of his way to apologize for having liked the film so much, which tells you how thankful we should be that it’s a British production. Hollywood would never have the courage to make a film like this. Turan also throws in pejoratives such as ‘melodramatic’ and ‘over-the-top’ to describe the production, then ends this way:

“But despite its pitfalls, this movie musical is a clutch player that delivers an emotional wallop when it counts. You can walk into the theater as an agnostic, but you may just leave singing with the choir.”

In other words, Turan liked the film in spite of himself and his instinctive Hollywood cynicism and hatred for human greatness.

The entire cast is superb, including Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert. You will never see a scene in a movie more powerful than Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed A Dream.” If she does not win an Academy Award for that one scene, there is no justice in this world.

Assuming the movie follows the show it’s going to be just as condensed as the Liam Neeson movie. The only difference I can think of is the ending, the Neeson movie ended with Javert’s suicide, the show ends at Valjean’s death bed.

One key difference between Hugo’s story and the Liam Neeson film is that Marius is depicted as the leader of the insurrection, rather than Enjolras. Of course, the musical also makes some changes: Enjolras is executed rather than being shot at the barricades. But his heroism as the implacable leader is left intact and even underscored. Eponine also has a minimal role in the earlier film version. She is given a much more prominent role in the musical and in the new film, which again is more faithful to the book.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the film last night (a special Christmas Eve showing) and it is nothing short of magnificent. It is so good, in fact, that it would take an hour or two to write a full report. Perhaps the best way to convey how wonderful the film is would be to offer a few telling quotes from Kenneth Turan’s favorable review in the Los Angeles Times:

That last comment is Turan's cleverly obscured escape clause. He seems to be going out of his way to apologize for having liked the film so much, which tells you how thankful we should be that it’s a British production. Hollywood would never have the courage to make a film like this. Turan also throws in pejoratives such as ‘melodramatic’ and ‘over-the-top’ to describe the production, then ends this way:

In other words, Turan liked the film in spite of himself and his instinctive Hollywood cynicism and hatred for human greatness.

The entire cast is superb, including Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert. You will never see a scene in a movie more powerful than Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed A Dream.” If she does not win an Academy Award for that one scene, there is no justice in this world.

One key difference between Hugo’s story and the Liam Neeson film is that Marius is depicted as the leader of the insurrection, rather than Enjolras. Of course, the musical also makes some changes: Enjolras is executed rather than being shot at the barricades. But his heroism as the implacable leader is left intact and even underscored. Eponine also has a minimal role in the earlier film version. She is given a much more prominent role in the musical and in the new film, which again is more faithful to the book.

Well said.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Here’s what Barbara Branden wrote about Enjolras in Who Is Ayn Rand?:

Enjolras, was her favorite character? Javert was, according to tapes I had from the Ayn Rand BookStore, on the subject. I don't own them anymore and forget who did the speaking in the tape, it was a woman though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just saw this horrific film, the story of which, I knew almost nothing. The opening scene was powerful but I'd sum up this story as such: Justice in the service of the morality of sacrifice leads men of integrity to break their own backs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Enjolras, was her favorite character? Javert was, according to tapes I had from the Ayn Rand BookStore, on the subject. I don't own them anymore and forget who did the speaking in the tape, it was a woman though.

I suspect it was Shoshana Milgram. In a previous post, you said the following:

I just listened to Shoshana Milgram's Victor Hugo's Les Miserables: Valor in Defense of Values lecture and I thought it was interesting to note that her liking of Hugo had (I gather) more to do with his sense of life, and that Enjolras was the character that I think Ayn Rand liked the most in Les Miserables. Milgram compares him to some of the characters of Rand's fiction. I never really paid enough attention to that character, but after Milgram focused on him, and what Ayn Rand said about him, I can see why she thought this way. Milgram treats it extensively in the lecture, I only listened to it once, so in another listen or two when I have some time, I can go more into detail about it, if anyone would like me to.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just saw this horrific film, the story of which, I knew almost nothing. The opening scene was powerful but I'd sum up this story as such: Justice in the service of the morality of sacrifice leads men of integrity to break their own backs.

Here is Ayn Rand's statement about the theme of Les Miserables:

The theme of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is the injustice done to the lower classes of society. The plot-theme is: the struggle of an ex-convict to avoid the persecution of the police. This is the central narrative line, to which all the events are related. (from The Art of Fiction, p. 18)

Later in the same book, she says:

The justification for presenting tragic endings in literature is to show, as in We, The Living, that the human spirit can survive even the worst of circumstances--that the worst that the chance events of nature or the evil of other people can do will not defeat the proper human spirit. To quote from Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged: "Suffering as such is not a value; only man's fight against suffering, is."

"Victor Hugo, who usually has unhappy endings, always presents his characters' suffering somewhat in the way that I do in We, The Living..."

The Art of Fiction, p. 174)

Tom Hooper, the director of the new film, did not rely on the musical as his only source material. He relied heavily on Hugo's novel:

For the director, the words in Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, on which the musical is based, were obsessively detailed and key to inspiring much of the background for his cast, so he insisted everyone read the book.

"The story endures because it is so universal. It's about a man who's lost in the world, and his soul has become lost, and it's about him making the most important discoveries he can make as a human being," says Hooper. "It's about the importance of dealing with your fellow man with compassion and grace, and about the transformative power of love."

Randee Dawn in The Los Angeles Times, 12-27-12 (The Envelope)

Ayn Rand would have loved this "horrific" film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Ayn Rand would have loved this "horrific" film. "

I don't prefer the WWARD approach to my value judgements. I hate tragic stories, they offend my sense of life. I'm not in to misery and find "grace" and unmerited love as unpalatable as a government who "persecutes" a thief. I don't see "what could be and ought to be" in this movie and I haven't read We The Living because I don't find the worst aspects of life worth my time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Robert Tracinski has published a review of Les Miserables in The Tracinski Letter:

Romanticism and Realism

“Director Tom Hooper offers us a powerful new version of Les Miserables which is faithful in letter and spirit to the original musical and also to the novel. In fact, he frequently draws on elements from the original novel that couldn't be presented on stage, while at the same time really adapting the story to take advantage of the medium of film."

Tracinski characterizes Hooper’s treatment of Hugo’s story as in keeping with Ayn Rand’s literary school of Romantic Realism—i.e., showing how our actions, value-choices and ideals apply in the real world.

Referring to the musical, Tracinski says that “the final song… shows how deeply its creators understood the theme of Hugo’s work. [The song reprises a line used earlier: ‘Will you join our crusade?’] …The ‘crusade’ is every character’s fight for his values. It is the struggle for values as such.”

“…Tom Hooper’s achievement—and Hugh Jackman’s—is to bring that theme to life again with a realism that helps make its message fresh, immediate and unforgettable.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another reason to be pulling for Anne Hathaway (Fantine in Les Miserables) on Oscar night: she’s a big fan of Ayn Rand.

Here is an excerpt from a September, 2011 interview with Chelsea Handler (who clearly shares Hathaway’s admiration for Rand) in Interview magazine:

CHANDLER: . . But I know you're an Ayn Rand fan, right?

HATHAWAY: Yeah, I am.

HANDLER: What's your favorite Ayn Rand book?

HATHAWAY: Atlas Shrugged.

HANDLER: Did you like that better than The Fountainhead?

HATHAWAY: I did. When I began Atlas Shrugged, I was really excited, because Ayn Rand said that The Fountainhead was the overture to Atlas Shrugged. I was like, "Ooh! What am I getting into?" Whether or not you agree with Ayn Rand-and I have certain issues with some of her beliefs-the woman can tell a story. I mean, the novel as an art form is just in full florid bloom in Atlas Shrugged. It's an unbelievable story. The characters are so compelling, and what she's saying is mind-expanding. I really enjoyed that book, and it was kind of prophetic. I read that book for the first time during the Bush Administration and I was like, "People are governing with their feelings as opposed to their intellect. This is happening." And she wrote this how many years ago?

HANDLER: Not only that, but I think a book like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged is kind of a way to look at leading your life with your professionalism permeated by your value system and your moral rectitude. You're able to kind of see everything as one whole thing rather than kind of compartmentalizing different things in your life, and being morally bound to your personal life and not your professional life or vice-versa. When I read The Fountainhead, I was 17, and I thought, "I am never, ever going to have a book impact me this much." And I don't know that I've had one that did. That book definitely changed me for good, and I think the biggest compliment that you can say about any book is that it does that.

HATHAWAY: It's so true. If you're going to sum up both of those books, then I think what they say is don't be a hypocrite.

HANDLER: Exactly.

HATHAWAY: And whatever you are made of, be the best of that.

Perhaps Hathaway will thank Ayn Rand in her acceptance speech.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pleased to join the chorus.

I’ve never read the book or seen the stage version, but I’m pretty familiar with his other novels. This movie captures, from the What Have I Done? number on, the perilous, agonizing struggles that his characters go through. Daily life is tough, sordid and sometimes deadly for them; this makes the romanticism of the novels and of this movie all the more remarkable. It’s like We the Living in this respect. It also captures, in the crowd scenes, his sense of visual spectacle. Nowadays we call this “cinematic,” but Hugo lived long before anyone heard of movies. My guess in his case is that he realized how much more the novel could do this way than the stage (where he had plenty of experience). Better yet, the movie doesn’t take sixty pages to do it.

The all-sung presentation had mixed results for me. Actors don’t have to be trained singers to do musicals. The good ones can get by on skill and passion. This didn’t always come off, and I suspect that the arrangements had to do with this. To pass non-singers off in a musical you need to support them with lush arrangements, which the movie didn’t do. This is more effective dramatically, one reason being that you can hear the words clearly, but I don’t see myself buying the sound track any time soon. The only trained singers were in the younger generation - Marius, Enjolras and Eponine (but not Cosette). A movie on this scale has to cast established stars in the big parts, but they were able to put convincing vocalists in the smaller parts. I understand that Jackman has starred in stage musicals, but I never would have guessed from this.

Any chance this might lead to interest in Hugo’s other properties? Notre Dame would seem to be a natural. Quatre-Vingt Treize lacks a love interest, and L'Homme quit Rît requires us to spend an hour or two looking at Gwynplaine and thus an actor who could make us do just this. The plays are simply too hokey. We’ll see.

This was the best current-release movie I’ve seen since The King’s Speech. I was most pleased to learn that both movies had the same director.

If anyone out there is interested in the period, I recommend Kay Nolte Smith's A Tale of the Wind, a multi-generational saga of life in the nineteenth-century French theater. It's the only one of her novels I liked.

(If somebody is acquainted with the book, I have some questions that the script didn't tie up:

What does Valjean do for money? He has prospered as a factory owner but walks away from it in order to escape Javert. How does he manage to live so well for the rest of the story?

Why doesn't Javert simply arrest him on any of his several opportunities?)

Edited by Reidy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I understand that Jackman has starred in stage musicals, but I never would have guessed from this.

He was fantastic in Oklahoma! The part from Les Miz in the 60 Minutes piece sounded good to me.

(If somebody is acquainted with the book, I have some questions that the script didn't tie up:

What does Valjean do for money? He has prospered as a factory owner but walks away from it in order to escape Javert. How does he manage to live so well for the rest of the story?

He buries the fortune he accumulated as a factory owner in the woods, and taps into it once or twice. In the end he gives it all to Cosette, Hugo gives an accounting of it though I forget the details. How much they lived on, that kind of thing. In Paris he works as a gardener alongside the man he saved earlier, and lives frugally. Later he’s something of a philanthropist, however, so how he comes to have the cash to do that I don’t recall.

Why doesn't Javert simply arrest him on any of his several opportunities?)

Which opportunities? When he's a factory owner Javert isn't sure. After that there are some near misses, but until the barricade they don't have a real face to face.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kenneth Turan’s movie review (see my post #7 above) also caught the attention of Al Ramrus, a television/movie writer and producer who was a good friend of Ayn Rand in the 1950s and 1960s. You may remember him from the documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life.

Letter to the Los Angeles Times, Saturday, December 29, 2012

“Les Miz may not be for the literati”

What a shame that while praising Les Miserables as a musical—“delivers an emotional wallop” [“Glory in Misery,” 12-25-12]—Kenneth Turan also feels obligated to demonstrate his credentials as a modern intellectual and sophisticated cultural connoisseur by disparaging the story: “unashamed, operatic-sized sentiments,” “melodramatic plot gets increasingly wild and crazy,” “tailor-made for mockery,” etc.

In fact, the show does the almost impossible, capturing the essence of Victor Hugo’s classic 19th century novel, a romantic epic of heroism, idealism, loyalty and love. Brought to life with overwhelming emotion, these themes, in a gripping life-affirming story with such iconic characters as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, may not be fashionable these days with the literati who prefer smaller-than-life tales filled with despair, defeatism, and sexual perversity. But the common folk know better.

Al Ramrus, Pacific Palisades

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pleased to join the chorus.

I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I saw it for a second time two nights ago, and loved it even more than I did the first time. I thought all of the major players—including Jackman and Crowe—did an absolutely phenomenal job. I don’t have a word of criticism for any of them. In fact, I owe all of them—along with the director, Tom Hooper—a huge debt of gratitude for allowing me to live in Victor Hugo’s universe for nearly three hours. This film is unbelievably inspirational, an esthetic marvel that is all the more astonishing for its stark contrast with the dismal culture we see around us today.

For me, the only negative was Sasha Baron Cohen. Or, to be more exact, the character he portrayed. I realize that the film is based on the musical, so those purely frivolous scenes (e.g., “Master of the House”) had to be included, but I could have done without the “comic relief.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dennis,

Thank you for this thread and your contributions to it. "And whatever you are made of, be the best of that." Thank you especially for that.

We've definitely been planning to see this film. I enjoyed the stage musical as well as the book (read about 45 years ago). I was disappointed with the Liam Neeson film, and I've always liked him a lot; they never reached Hugo.

Stephen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Stephen. I’ll be interested to hear your reaction after you see it.

I honestly cannot remember when a movie so perfectly met the standards for romantic cinema. The second time I saw it, I noticed a lot of people still sitting in the theater after the credits were over and the lights came on. It’s as if they were as stunned as I was about what they had just seen. All I could think about was: Wow! This is what going to the movies would be like in a rational world!

It just makes you realize the power of art and the potential that is being wasted by all the sordid crap that finds its way onto the big screen today.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...