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A Comparative Analysis of "Les Mis" and "Sweeney Todd"

Updated on April 12, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I have been a goth since I was fourteen, and pagan since fifteen.

Each character in Les Misérables and Sweeney Todd is a type of person or figure in society. Each situation in the musicals speak to a social issue. There are messages about power, class, gender, family and good vs. evil. This comparison is using the film adaptations of the musicals.

Hugh Jackman at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International.
Hugh Jackman at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International. | Source

Valjean and Sweeney

Valjean

Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is the hero of the story. He is originally a criminal who was caught stealing. After being taken in by a bishop, he attempts to steal some of the church's possessions, and is caught by police, but forgiven by the bishop who just wants to help him. Valjean decides to stay. He transforms his life by rejecting his name, and becoming mayor. As mayor, Valjean fails to prevent a woman, Fantine, from losing her job. Later, he comes across Fantine on the street after she is about to die of illness. When she informs him she was let go, and he didn't stop it, he takes it upon himself to make everything right. He takes her to a hospital, and finds her daughter, Cosette. He promises to take care of her daughter; unfortunately, Fantine dies before Cosette is returned to her.

Studies have shown a lot of crime happens during economic instability. When people are unable to find work they resort to stealing, dealing drugs or anything else to make some money. If society knew more about why poor people end up where they do they would not judge them as they do. Valjean's character changes because he is shown love after everyone else taught him he doesn't deserve it. This has happened in real life as well. Telling the lower-class that they will never get out of where they are will never help their situation. It may even prevent them from taking opportunities to have more for themselves.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd [Wiki]
Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd [Wiki] | Source

Sweeney

Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) started out as an innocent loving father, but turns into a madman on a journey to kill because he was wronged. Benjamin loses his wife, Lucy, to the corrupt powers of Judge Turpin and renames himself Sweeney Todd. He wants to persuade the judge to visit his barbershop, so he can kill him for what he did to his family. He kills countless people before the judge ends up in his chair, again. Meanwhile, when Lucy appears in his shop he does not recognize her. He fears the woman will tell the authorities what he has been doing; therefore, he kills her. It isn't until later that he realizes it was her. In the end, killing people leads his own murder.

Society marginalizes mental illness. Rather than being concerned with why people are ill we give them pills. Suffering men are particularly ignored because gender politics encourage men to deal with their depression rather than acknowledge it and heal. Many male soldiers who come back from service are overlooked when they express issues such as post-traumatic stress. When issues like these are not dealt with appropriately it can turn very serious, and become permanent.

Fantine and Lucy

Fantine

Fantine (Anne Hathaway) became pregnant, and was left by the father of her child, Cosette. With no man in her life, she is dependent on her own employment; however, society looks down upon unmarried mothers; therefore, she is fired from her position at the factory, and forced to make money to support Cosette by any means possible. After some time on the street, she becomes unrecognizable. She sells her hair, some of her teeth and eventually her body. It isn't until the mayor (Valjean) comes to her rescue, after she tells him what he did when she worked in the factory, that she is taken to a safe place; unfortunately, she dies before she sees Cosette, again.

Single mothers are no longer a new concept, but many outsiders would still prefer to believe the women somehow caused their own fate. Abandonment can happen to anyone at any time for any reason. Society should not impose expectations on women nor refuse to give jobs to single mothers. Society needs to stop blaming the victim. Any true mother would work harder than anyone to earn money to support her children.

Laura Michelle Kelly
Laura Michelle Kelly | Source

Lucy

Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) is sexually assaulted, and becomes unrecognizable. She is left in poverty, and blends in well. No one in the audience or in the story knows she is the homeless woman singing about Mrs. Lovett's shop, and the smoke coming from it. It isn't until after Sweeney kills her out of fear she will go to the authorities about what he's been doing that he realizes it's his long lost wife he was searching for before Mrs. Lovett convinced him she has died.

Social experiments have been performed which involve family members dressing up as homeless people and sitting on the side of the road to see if their relatives recognize them. In the experiments, they are never recognized because the relatives don't really look at the assumed homeless. This proves that anyone could have a homeless relative or friend, but not recognize them on the street unless they already knew they were homeless.

Javert and Judge Turpin

Javert

Javert (Russell Crowe) thinks he is better than criminals because he has been in the position to punish them. He is power-hungry. He abuses his power by trying to destroy anyone he can. When a man tries to assault Fantine, while she is a prostitute and she refuses the man, Javert comes to the man's rescue by announcing Fantine should be sent to prison. He doesn't go through the process to determine who was right or wrong. He just can't wait to enforce his authority over people with less power.

This type of delusion is unfortunately common among people in power. Authority can get to people's heads. Before they know it, they don't think twice about asserting that power over anyone who has the potential to have done wrong in some way.

Judge Turpin

Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) is all about abusing his authority. If anyone dares to insult him or attempt to overthrow his power he punishes them. Any complaint anyone has, even against a child, he is willing to sentence the accused to death. When he sees Lucy he makes sure she is his, only to toss her aside after having his way with her. Meanwhile, he takes ownership of Johanna, and plans to marry her. People are just his possessions; either they serve him in some way or they are useless to him.

This type of character can be found all over society. There are plenty of men who feel entitled to own women, and/or children. This type of man has not been taught that gender is not a reason to think of someone as lower. These men are narcissistic, and feel no remorse for the pain they cause. To the contrary, they believe they are wronged by everyone they are doing harm to.

Amanda Seyfried-crop
Amanda Seyfried-crop | Source

Cosette and Johanna

Cosette

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) lives as an orphan for much of her childhood. After Valjean promises to take care of her she has a parent she can depend on. Then, she is on the run because of Valjean's reputation. While her adopted father shows her a very different life, she is still very dependent on him. She would be lost if anything happened to him.

While Cosette knows what it is like to be controlled, she also knows what it is like to be protected; therefore, she falls in love with Marius very quickly because he intends to protect her, too; however, the two hardly know each other. Her values lack logical support because she has not had the opportunity to have enough independence in her life.

Johanna

Judge Turpin takes Johanna (Jayne Wisener) from her family. Being a prisoner is all she knows. She spends most of her life locked away in the judge's house. After Anthony takes interest in her she is freed because of his perseverance to be with her.

Beyond being a pretty blonde, there isn't much to Johanna's character. She is rebellious because she needs to be free, but she doesn't try very hard. It could be argued that this is due to being imprisoned for so long; however, it isn't clear why Anthony is so drawn to her beyond her beauty. This speaks to the stereotype that women who don't use their words are more attractive than those who stand up for themselves. Johanna can be easily manipulated; especially through the claim that it is in her best interest.

Marius and Anthony

Marius

Marius (Eddie Redmayne) is driven by politics and his friends. He is determined to overthrow the government so the people can have their freedom. After he sees Cosette, he wants to be with her; however, maintains his passion for social issues. Men are expected to take on many roles. They should be protectors, and accomplish a change in society using their strengths; on the other hand, they should be protecting women, and acting as husband and father. Just as women are expected to fulfill many roles, today, many men are as well.

Anthony

When Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) comes to London and sees Johanna, she becomes his focus. All he cares about is being with her. He spends the majority of his time watching her. While this speaks to the ideal of love at first sight it is quite disturbing. It suggests his character lacks in goals beyond making her his significant other.

Thénardier and Pirelli

Thénardier

Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) makes his money by tricking the wealthy into staying at his inn. He finds ways to charge extra for everything. Meanwhile, he is a clever pick-pocket. Then, he uses Cosette to get money from Valjean. His only aim is money; therefore, the needs of others is none of his concern.

Sacha Baron Cohen at the Hugo Premiere, New York City 2011.
Sacha Baron Cohen at the Hugo Premiere, New York City 2011. | Source

Pirelli

Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a street barber. He puts on shows to get people interested in using his business for their beauty needs. He sees other people as objects to gain from. Toby is his assistant who attracts people to his performance and services, but he abuses the boy to prevent him from leaving; otherwise, he would have to work that much harder. Since he is only interested in profit, he fears competition. When he finds out Sweeney Todd is actually Benjamin Barker he jumps at the opportunity to get rid of him.

This type of behavior is no different from the politics of many businesses. Most do not ban together to help each other succeed. They would rather beat the other out of popularity. We see this in politics all of the time as well. Any negative information or negative gossip a competitor may have on their enemy is beneficial for their own reputation.

Helena Bonham Carter 2005
Helena Bonham Carter 2005 | Source

Madame Thénardier and Mrs. Lovett

Madame Thénardier

Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter) is after money just the same as her husband; however, she enjoys the power as well. Any opportunity to trick someone into giving her more gets her going. She craves the attention of men, especially. Her husband no longer satisfies her, on any level, and even his attempts to get money disappoint her. She is constantly pretending to be a damsel in distress to get the sympathy from strangers who will hopefully allow her to profit, financially.

Many young girls are told they will find a perfect man to take care of them, but most find out how unrealistic this is. While most of Madame's claims are exaggerated or fictional to get money from the men, on one hand she could be telling the truth. She probably thought her husband would take care of her, but he let her down. Now, she doesn't recognize herself; therefore, she's doing everything she has to so she can survive.

Mrs. Lovett

Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces Sweeney to kill the townspeople to popularize her pie shop through the use of meat. By making the pie shop a success they can persuade the judge to come in for a shave, again, and Sweeney will have another opportunity to kill him as revenge for destroying his wife; however, later it is learned that her intentions were entirely selfish, all along. She wants to make money, and have Sweeney to herself. She wants a perfect little family.

Sometimes, society forgets that while businesses must provide a service it is also about profit; therefore, many skilled business people learn how to manipulate the unsuspecting to get what they want or need. Most businesses rely on duping people to get the amount of money they need to survive, or keep their business going. This is why in the song "A Little Priest" there is the line "It's man devouring man, my dear, and who are we to deny it in here?"

Gavroche and Tobias

Gavroche

Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) is a part of the group fighting for the rights of the people. He doesn't seem to have any family beyond his friends in the group; therefore, he is dependent on their emotional support. He has a strong voice when attempting to get the rich to acknowledge the marginalization of the poor; sadly, he is so determined to be part of a group of grown men that he puts himself in so much danger that it leads to his death.

Tobias

Tobias (Ed Sanders) is dependent on Pirelli for everything: money, shelter, food, etc. Pirelli uses Tobias' outgoing personality to get what he wants. Many orphans are at the mercy of their caretakers with no alternatives; therefore, he is obedient toward Pirelli, Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. It isn't until he realizes what Sweeney does that he wants to take care of Mrs. Lovett like an adult, and get revenge because Sweeney may be putting him and Mrs. Lovett in danger.

Both young boys risk their lives to be like adults because they have no other choice. Many young orphans can end up becoming involved with dangerous people and/or situations. They aren't given a chance to be young or care-free. With no one to protect them, they are often victims of brutality.

© 2014 social thoughts

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  • social thoughts profile image
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    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    lewis goodman, thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it!

  • lewis goodman profile image

    lewis goodman 2 years ago

    this was a beautiful hub! I liked your comparison of characters. and you picked some good plays to compare. I couldn't have done better.

  • social thoughts profile image
    Author

    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Ann, thank you for your comment! Yes, Sweeney makes me cry. The poor corrupt man!

  • Ann1Az2 profile image

    Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

    Yes, I agree with our friend, Bill, it was a nice review. I haven't seen Les Miserables, but I have seen Sweeny Todd. I'm glad that Hugh Jackman's character found grace and forgiveness because Johnny Depp's certainly didn't. Good job.

  • social thoughts profile image
    Author

    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Aw Thank you! That's so nice. :)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Do you know how many movie reviews I have read on HP over the last three years? I don't either, but it's been a ton of them. This is the first time I've read one that wasn't boilerplate and brainless. Very nice job of comparison. It is a pleasure reading the work of someone who actually exercises the real estate between her ears.

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