Friday, December 28, 2012
It's a screen version of the musical that played in NYC for a long time.
It's basically about a guy named Jean Valjean who steals a loaf of bread and is harassed for two decades by an inspector named Javert. Javert is played by Russell Crowe. He sings very well and shifts registers in a way that displays a new aspect of his talent (at least to me). Another standout is Anne Hathaway. She plays a factory girl who is forced into prostitution to try to pay for her daughter's livelihood.
After the French Revolution of 1792-4, France fell into a kind of dictatorship with the Directory of revolutionaries running things. It didn't work so well, and in 1810 Napoleon became emperor. Democracy didn't quite work out for the French. This is probably an aspect of the Catholicism in which a single figure gets to decide things. Protestantism is a seedbed of liberties, as Paz pointed out in Mexico, which Catholic countries don't have a model for.
Fascism and dictatorships haunted the Catholic countries. Mussolini in Italy. Franco in Spain. Hitler and Goebbels were Catholics. All over South America it's been dictators of left and right. It's only the Protestant countries that made a rapid and permanent transition to democracies.
In this film we see Jean Valjean caught up in a revolutionary France in the period of 1832. This was in a period called the July Monarchy. You see French troops gunning down revolutionaries who have risen up for largely economic reasons. For without the ability to feed themselves, they are at the mercy of various bosses who use the poor for sex and what amounts to slave labor. The legal system sanctions this.
We've had various attempts to change the economics of countries since at least the Protestant Revolution, which was largely economic in nature. Luther objected to paying into the Pope's fun chest. German princes backed him, again largely for economic reasons.
Communist systems began to spring up in the 1850s and they vied with democratic traditions. These were again largely economic in terms of their rationale.
National socialism was an attempt by Hitler and his minions to wrest economic control from the Jews. They wanted to kill the Jews, and steal their things, and then march through Europe stealing everything they could get, and redistributing it to Aryans.
Economics plays a huge part in all of this. Wealth is a strange thing, and isn't just the amount of money you have, but also your capabilities, your freedoms, your know-how. Each of us struggles to maximize this.
How do we get the maximum economic fairness to work throughout a system? In Les Miserables this plays no small part in the plot. But there is also a religious subtext in which the poor are aided by the church. Jean Valjean is helped by a friendly abbot. He's given a fortune in silver and gold plates. This makes Valjean a wealthy man who can afford to set up a factory. He then in turn employs hundreds. This strange economic idea seems to reach back into the "turn the other cheek" model that Christ discusses. If a man steals your shirt, give him your coat.
The Statue of Liberty was sent to America by French liberals who admired our democratic traditions and wanted such a system in France. We see the French struggling with this problem. Many of us admire French aesthetics and French surrealism, but don't admire the problems with anti-democratic traditions that come out of this. I could not understand Breton's rationale for dictatorship. Far better the Lutheran tradition of each having their own conscience, rather than submitting to a director. The notion of violent rebellion and strange hysterical rhetoric that arises from surrealism also bothers me. I think we should try to understand one another. A conversation is mostly listening. Everyone's life is a romantic opera.