Movie Review: Les Miserables

Les Misérables (2012 film) - Wikipedia

So, I finally got around to watching arguably one of the most iconic films of all time- Les Miserables, about France in the 1800s. The film opens with Jean Valjean, a prisoner, being released from prison after a nearly 20-year long imprisonment simply for stealing bread. As a former convict, he cannot find a job or a place to stay, but a generous Bishop offers to take him in. However, Valjean tries to steal the Bishop’s silverware and run away, but is caught by the police- still, the Bishop stands up for him, saying that he himself gave Valjean the silver so he could start a new life in the world. Valjean is stunned and ashamed- to honor the Bishop, he makes himself a new persona to save other people.

Almost ten years later, Valjean is a rich factory owner- but he is shocked when a man named Javert (formerly a prison guard at the prison where Valjean was held) comes to meet Valjean as the new police chief. Javert begins to suspect Valjean’s real identity. Concurrently, one of the factory workers named Fantine is fired for having a daughter out of wedlock, named Cosette. Cosette is revealed to be living with a greedy family named the Thenardiers, who demand money from Fantine. Fantine, desperate, becomes a prostitute to pay her debts. After she attacks an abusive customer, Javert arrests her, but Valjean remembers her as a factory worker and takes her to a doctor. However, the unrest in Paris has festered for too long- things are about to get, for lack of a better term, heated.

Les Miserables takes place during the French Revolution. The movie is set amongst many historical landmarks in Paris- such as Notre Dame. The time period shines through- the deep social divides and political unrest of the Revolution bleed through and impact all the characters in different ways. 

A big social issue in the film was the issue of poverty and criminality. Deep social and class divides between the rich and poor were very common at this time, leading to deep feelings of unrest in the country. In addition, even stealing was treated as a serious offense- leading to decade-long prison sentences and sometimes even execution. In turn, the imprisoned people were unable to provide for their families- which just reinforced the cycle of poverty and forced their children into stealing in order to survive.

A big social issue mentioned in the film was Cosette living with the Thenardiers. One might ask, why would Fantine send Cosette away? The truth is, it was very common in this time period for working-class women to send their daughters away to live with slightly better-off individuals who could provide the child with some education (for a fee).

There were many cultural differences shown in this movie I wasn’t aware of- for example, the practice of sending daughters away. In addition, I was unaware of the practice of the police dealing with the revolters in those days- I had no idea it was so brutal. I was also surprised by the truly horrible living conditions of the poor shown in the movie- I really had no clue they were that bad. 

The issues this film deals with- poverty, criminality, and doing anything to survive- are definitely universal, and prominent even today, and even in the United States- with the wage gap and class gap that we are currently experiencing in our society. It was heartwarming, though, to see the sense of community, love, and kindness shown by Valjean, even in this brutal situation.

-Vaidehi B.

Les Miserables is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Theater Review: Dear Evan Hansen

The Tony-winning Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen is currently on tour around the US, and I was lucky enough to snag tickets for a show in Costa Mesa. I had already listened to the soundtrack more times than I could count, but I was ridiculously excited anyway. Dear Evan Hansen is one of my favorite musicals of all time, and it is the second musical ever that I have seen live. And, let me tell you, it was a treat.

This musical addresses one of today’s biggest issues: teen suicide and anxiety. The main character, Evan Hansen, has extreme social anxiety, and his therapist tells him to write positive letters to himself. However, when he prints a failed version one of these letters (it was very pessimistic) out in his school’s computer lab, Connor Murphy, a fellow student, snatches it from him and shoves him. Later, the characters find that Connor has committed suicide, and they find Evan’s letter in his pocket. They think that the letter is Connor’s suicide note, addressed to Evan, and them Evan and his family friend, Jared, get dragged into a huge mess of lies and deception. Evan and Jared write fake emails to Connor to “prove” that they are friends, and they start a huge project to spread awareness for Connor’s death. Evan even gets together with his long-time crush, Zoe Murphy, who also happens to be Connor’s sister.

However, nothing this perfect can last, especially if it is based on a lie. Evan’s mom finds out about the Connor project and how he has been spending almost every night at the Murphys’ home. The whole charade falls apart, Evan eaves the Connor Project, and he and Zoe break up. Although he and Zoe do make peace at the end of the musical, I was still in tears throughout the entirety of Act 2.

Although the soundtrack was very differet from the actual live musical, both are thoroughly enjoyable. Dear Evan Hansen is one of my favorite musicals of all time for its storyline and beautifully written characters, and seeing it live is not something that I will ever forget. This musical is truly fantastic, and I would definitely encourage seeing it if possible.

-Arushi S.