Le Mis, was a good movie. Not entirely enjoyable as a movie depicting misery and suffering is not actually the most uplifting theme but well acted, engaging and a bit surprising. (Whoda thunk that Wolverine and the Gladiator could sing?)
It took a little getting used to since everyone sang instead of speaking for the entire movie, which made it more like an opera than a play. (I was kind of expecting a musical with songs that I have heard many times before sung between dialogue. Didn’t realize it was all singing. A bit weird at first, but acceptable once understood.) However, even though I enjoyed it the first thing that caught my attention was the date the movie began- 1815.
Having heard the songs of Le Mis in the past, I assumed it was about the French Revolution. Once I noted that date however, I realized it was not actually about the French Revolution at all. Rather the story is actually about the results or consquences of the French Revolution. This, in my mind, is a significant difference than my earlier assumptions which the events depicted and the music would imply. In reality, what historians refer to as the French Revolution began in 1789 and ended with the death of King Louis XVI in 1793. However, the movie begins in 1815 which is 21 years after the French Revolution ended.
So why is this important in assessing Le Mis you may ask? Well, first of all, I don’t think from the musical themes and events of the story that most movie viewers will even notice this subtlety. After all, it is no secret that Americans in general are notoriously bad with historic facts. (Jay Leno makes this apparent with his Jay Walk segments.)
The revolutionary songs, the oppressed poor, the exploited prisoners all imply through omission that this story is about the French Revolution. It is decidedly not. If you follow along with me here, you will actually see that what Victor Hugo was actually writing about was what the French Revolution turned France into. I think this will carry over into today too BTW as we watch the results of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions. The lessons herein can be applied to our age as well.
There Were Significant Differences Between the American and French Revolutions
The French Revolution was quite different in many ways from the American Revolution (or more accurately the American War for Independence) in very definitive ways. Because of these differences, it produced significantly different results. Here are some comparisons between the two Revolutions which happened at about the same time in history:
The American Revolution or War for Independence (1776 to 1783)
The French Revolution (1789 to 1793)
The bottom line. Le Mis was NOT based in the French Revolution, but rather the results of the French Revolution decades afterwards. Le Mis is about what the French Revolution produced NOT the revolution itself!
The movie itself portrays those results quite effectively. The viewer will notice that much of the movie is dark with a feeling of hopelessness. There is not much light here. It reminds me of the first Bat Man movie whereby the darkness of Gotham City was a reflection of its corruption which is where the French Revolution led as well.
In Part 2– We’ll take a look at the forces that brought about the French Revolution.
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