Yesterday my daughter auditioned for a local Summer production of Les Misérables. She’s going for Madame Thénardier, partly because she’ll get to swear on stage 1.
In preparation for her audition we rented the recent movie version of the musical. It’s visually stunning, and Anne Hathaway absolutely nails Fantine, but overall I didn’t care for the slight changes in lyrics and timeline. There are still some very fine performances, however, it is worth seeing.
The finale, while being somewhat lessened by the absence Éponine’s part, had the impact it always has on me. I cry every time.
Why do I cry? Because Les Misérables is a story about the triumph of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. When the dead return to reprise “Do you hear the people sing?” to close the show, the Biblical imagery of the New Creation rushes from the stage.
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord
We will walk behind the plough-share
We will put away the sword
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward
As I was searching for the film on Amazon I happened across a documentary covering the story of the show, calling it “The World’s Most Popular Musical.” That struck me. In a world of power struggles, corruption, and violence the most popular musical is a story of grace and mercy. How amazing is that?
Pondering this, however, brings me to a statement I recently heard during a PBS town hall on “Faith & Guns.” During the discussion on panelist brought up a hypothetical situation and asked the question if people would rather be unarmed during an attack or “meet force with equal force.” It strikes me how different the assumptions which gave rise to that question are from the so-called “secular” entertainment of Les Misérables. And in that striking difference I see how the church has lost its moral voice.
The popularity of this show, I believe, reveals how people are searching for a moral voice which speaks of mercy, grace, and redemption. And yet, the modern Christian vision pursues temporal strength and control as its greatest virtues. I’ve been to worship services which celebrate the triumphalism of strength and worldly victory, the very sort of service I’d expect a celebration of “meeting force with equal force” would emerge. To me, the experience of Les Misérables feels much more authentically Christian.
God have mercy on us, we really have no idea we’ve lost.
- My daughter is weird. Which is to say, mine. ↩