30 Dec 2012

The Bishop’s Grace Makes Les Mis Possible

Religious 19 Comments

I watched the new Les Mis and loved it. Hugh Jackman was surprisingly good: Near the end I actually thought they might have been dubbing it, because I thought he sounded so much like the Broadway soundtrack. (I didn’t think that in the beginning of the movie; I need to watch it again to see if I just adjusted or what.) Russell Crowe was the only one who really made me wonder what his agent was thinking, but I actually think more highly of him for being willing to sing like that in front of the world. I don’t mean he was awful, I’m just saying, he sounded like a schoolgirl and I’m surprised he was willing to do that.

Anyway, I was struck (yet again–I have seen this in several formats many times since childhood) by how crucial the bishop is to the whole story. To set the scene: Valjean is paroled after doing 19 years of hard labor for stealing bread for his starving niece. He can’t get any work because of his prison record. A kind bishop takes him in, giving him a warm meal and place to stay for the night. In the night Valjean steals the silver and takes off, but is hauled back by the police. Here’s what happens (go to 3:15):

Once Valjean is on the receiving end of such mercy and grace, he becomes a fountain of it in his own life, eventually doing something that is far nobler than what the bishop did.

In your own life, you may often feel that you’re a sucker for turning the other cheek and being classy or kind or whatever word is appropriate. But remember that you might inspire that one person out of 100 who will learn from your example and amplify it tenfold. Then someone will see his example, and so forth. Just as we can’t fully anticipate the full ramifications of our sins, so too we can’t comprehend just how helpful our mercy and compassion will be.

Take a chance.

19 Responses to “The Bishop’s Grace Makes Les Mis Possible”

  1. Joseph Fetz says:

    So, in other words, *don’t* knee people in the face?

  2. Ken B says:

    The best bit of literary criticism I’ve ever seen came in a Nero Wolfe detective novel:
    “You lied!”
    “Yes I did.”
    “That’s terrible.”
    “Nonsense. Victor Hugo wrote a whole book to prove a lie can be sublime.”

  3. Ken B says:

    As for the movie, meh. Or more accurately meh-.
    The singing is poor overall. Redmayne is decent as is Hathaway. Jackman just isn’t up to it, and Crowe …
    The staging with the designer grubby is so so.
    They even muffed the easiest number to do well, Master of the House, going for crude and obvious, rather than find the humor in the song.
    In short the music got short shrift for marquee names.

  4. Yosef says:

    The Bishop is a fascinating character. There is a reason he forms the beginning of the book and is the first character introduced. While he may say things like “The good cannot have an impious servant. An atheist is an evil leader of the human race” he is overall an amazing figure (Actually, that whole discussion with the revolutionary on his deathbed is brilliant and enlightening. Remember that it was the Bishop who asked the blessing of the revolutionary!)

    Still Bob, be careful in holding up Les Mis, for it is M. Madeleine (the saved Valjean) who says “The two highest functionaries of the state are the wet-nurse and the school teacher.” And the Bishop, in admiring Bossuet (“The bishop was staggered, speechless; it shocked him to hear Bousset spoken of in such a manner. The best men have their blind spots, and sometimes they feel almost crushed at how little respect logic can show them.”) the Bishop is admiring political absolutism.

    Also, one minor issue. In the original show, as seen in the youtube link, the Bishop says “I have bought your soul for God” whereas in the movie he says “I have saved your soul for God”. An interesting change, but not one that I like.

    • Ken B says:

      Nice catch Yosef! I missed that. I agree with you. Bought is just stronger line there in every way.

      • Yosef says:

        Ken, thanks and I couldn’t agree with you more on the way they handled Master of the House in the movie. And to make things worse they cut out Dog Eat Dog!

        • Ken B says:

          Ever see Brigadoon? They cut the four best songs!

  5. David R. Henderson says:

    My 2 favorite parts of Les Miserables are the bishop’s candlesticks and Jean Valjean turning himself in so an innocent man won’t go to prison.

    • ThomasL says:

      Do they still make sense if you are correct that God does not exist?

      • David R. Henderson says:

        I think so.

        • Ken B says:

          They remain acts of kindness and decency. Is it really so bad that they were done out of a desire to be kind and decent rather than to curry favor with some powerful being? I think compassion a better motive than CYA!

          • ThomasL says:

            You misunderstand why they were done. They were done out of a conscious semblance to divine mercy, not to curry favor.

            They are done in the imitation of Christ, not as some sort of get out of jail token.

            Because the bishop (and later Valjean) authentically believe Christianity, they are most concerned over the immortal soul–not merely their own, as you suggested, but in love, others–which is of incomparably greater worth than candlesticks or time suffering in jail.

            You leave out God (and so, man in his image) and their actions are meaningless. Or at least the bishop, Valjean, and Victor Hugo would have thought so.

            Christianity says, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” That is what the book (in part) is about.

            • ThomasL says:

              Or let me put it another way.

              If there is nothing higher than man, why should any man sacrifice himself for another man?

              Is, “He felt like it,” the complete answer?

  6. ThomasL says:

    Liam Neeson’s non-musical version is worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

  7. mike gurecki says:

    Interesting note: valjean in this clip played the bishop in the movie

  8. Kay says:

    lovely theme message. the artistic/lit critique is the bonus wrapping paper.

  9. Kay says:

    the old (O-L-D) movie is a treasure… conveying a different, but equally powerful (imho) rich experience. if only “the archers” powell and emeric pressburger could have made a version …

  10. Butler says:

    It was pointed out in an earlier comment, but as a musical theater geek, I can’t help but saying how I love that Colm Wilkinson was the original Jean Valjean, and they got him to play the Bishop in the movie. Truly full circle for him! Agree with this post 100% too, by the way!

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