Movie Parables: Les Miserables
Loving the Unlovable Among Us
The 1998 film, Les Misérables, translated “the Wretched Poor,” is based on the famous 1862 novel by French author Victor Hugo. The story revolves around an escaped prisoner by the name of Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. Throughout the film, Valjean is relentlessly hunted down by an unforgiving French investigator who has sworn to capture and return him to prison.
Seeking shelter from the harsh winter, we find him desperately knocking on a door late at night. The home happens to belong to the town bishop who offers Valjean refuge, in spite of the fact that he is a known convict who is wanted by the authorities. The bishop listens to his trying tale and serves him a sumptuous meal. But despite the bishop’s kindness, Valjean returns evil for good. In the middle of the night he remembers the shiny silver spoon he used to eat his soup at dinner and sneaks into the dining room to steal the bishop’s valuable silverware. The bishop is awakened by the loud metal clatter and rises up to inspect his home. He discovers that his houseguest has just robbed him. Valjean strikes the bishop leaving him wounded and unconscious then escapes into the night.
Although the bishop’s wife mourns the loss of their precious silver, the bishop consoles her and says, “So we’ll use wooden spoons. I don’t want to hear anything more about it.” No sooner does he say this when the authorities appear at his home with the stolen silver and a handcuffed and hooded prisoner who happened to be his former houseguest and assailant.
The bishop looks into the thief’s eyes and says, “I’m very angry with you, Jean Valjean.” Turning toward the authorities, he asks, “Didn’t he tell you that he was our guest?” “Oh, yes,” replies the chief constable, “after we searched his knapsack we found all this silver. He claimed that you gave it to him.”
Valjean looks down in shame and awaits the bishop’s verdict that will surely throw him back in prison. But the bishop says, “Yes. Of course I gave him the silverware.” Then, turning to Valjean he asks, “But why didn’t you take the candlesticks? That was very foolish. They’re worth at least two thousand francs. Why did you leave them? Did you forget to take them?”
The bishop signals his wife to hurry and fetch the candlesticks, while the authorities stand there dumbfounded. They ask, “Are you saying he told us the truth?” The bishop replies, “Of course. Thank you for bringing him back. I’m very relieved.” The authorities quickly release Valjean, who is shocked by the sudden turn of events while the bishop places the candlesticks into his knapsack. As soon as the authorities leave, the bishop drops the heavy bag filled with silver at Valjean’s feet. He removes the thief’s hood, which hid his guilty face. The bishop looks him face-to-face and orders him, “Don’t forget—don’t ever forget you’ve promised to become a new man.” Valjean trembled before the bishop, agrees to keep his promise, and asks him, “Why are you doing this?”
The bishop places his hands on Valjean’s shoulders as an act of forgiveness and declares, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. Now I give you back to God.”
In so doing Valjean experiences a kind act of forgiveness that seems so foreign and long forgotten. The bishop redeems his life and allows him his sought after freedom.
Jesus commands the people of God saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:27-31).
Les Misérables (Columbia Pictures, 1998), written by Rafael Yglesias (based on the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo), directed by Billie August.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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"Lewis Smedes writes about forgiveness like no one has ever written about it before. There is no better book in the English language about this subject, which, if properly mastered, can change the face of human relationships."