I’m definitely a card-carrying Les Mis fan, spanning back to my first family trip to New York City when I was a ‘tween. We stayed at then-brand new Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, and my dad sent me and my mother to front-row seats at Les Mis while he took my younger brother to a Yankee game. We sat, mesmerized, for hours, and we walked out in tears. I didn’t know people could even sing like that.
Since then, I’ve seen the NY production several times, often from the nosebleeds. I saw it in San Francisco. I saw it in London. I know every word to every song, and I didn’t even realize it until I went to see the movie and I was singing the words in my head before the actors did.
But this isn’t a review of the movie. If you are looking for a review of the movie, I can sum it up in this way: if you love the theater version, you will enjoy the film because it’s basically like you walked onto the stage and are sitting thisclose to the actors’ faces while they sing. Director Tom Hooper didn’t go outside the box at all in terms of the performances or the staging, with the exception of the added song for Jean ValJean (and predictably, I wasn’t a fan of that). Also, if you are a fan of the stage, you’ll probably be unimpressed with most of the singing and go all fangirl over Colm Wilkinson’s cameo. If you go to the movie looking for some new, broadened film version with dialogue backed by some pretty music, you’ll be disgruntled. The End.
But again, this is not a review of Les Mis. It’s not even really about Les Mis at all. It’s actually about the experience of watching Les Mis on screen, in this particular holiday season, in this particular year. Of course, I have always cried watching or listening to the show, like most of the free world. But watching it this time, in this season, in this month, it was even more wrenching than usual. After the hell of the election season and the misery of dodging reports on the impending fiscal cliff, the themes in the movie, the misery and the discord, just wrung me out in a way it never has before.
But it was the barricade scenes that truly did me in, for one big reason: Gavroche. The filmmakers could have never known, when they were editing the film, the impact that his death on screen would have on their audience. They could never have predicted the events of mid-December that would make watching a young boy be shot point blank and lie prostrate and staring lifelessly up at the sky almost searingly unbearable.
Moments later, Eddie Redmayne’s boyishly freckled Marius sings, “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken, there’s a pain goes on and on,” of his fallen schoolmates and the “empty chairs at empty tables,” and I felt like my heart might very well burst out of my chest. I started to feel that headache I get when I am holding in my tears and my mouth goes into that straight-line grimace of concentration, willing myself not to ugly cry all over the place.
By the ending scene of the movie, the entire theater was struggling. In fact, at one point, I heard one woman let out a loud, unrestrained, honest-to-goodness sob. At first, I thought she might be laughing for some reason, but when I turned, she had her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking. Her friend sat beside her and patted her reassuringly. As we walked out of the theater, I noticed that nearly everyone had red, wet, sad eyes. Les Miserables indeed.
I haven’t been able to get the lingering thoughts out of my head — the vision of Gavroche, the words of Marius — the “grief that can’t be spoken,” the pain that “goes on and on,” or that show of overwhelming emotion in the movie theater. I can’t help but think we’re nation suffering from PTSD right now. The “empty chairs at empty tables” are too real and too close. I’m not enough of a Constitutional scholar nor a mental health professional to comment on what I specifically want to happen in our country, and I acknowledge there is a Second Amendment and many law-abiding gun owners. But I am a mother, and I am tired of children dying because of guns. Something needs to change.
Until then, I’ll probably see Les Miserables again. Okay, let’s be honest: I’ll probably see it many more times, and let’s all hope I watch it at home where I can sing out loud, uninhibited by pesky consideration for others, and ugly cry if I feel like it. But I am not sure I’ll ever be able to watch it the same way again.