Les Misérables is a French novel written in 1862 by Victor Hugo. There are many media adaptations of the literary work, including movies, TV shows, comics, radio plays, and others. One of the significant features of the novel and its media adaptations is the list of its characters, as each of them has their unique worldview. This paper analyzes the portrayal of the main characters’ worldviews by evaluating their dialogues and actions. The specific subject of the study is the movie Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper and distributed by the Universal Pictures production company. Although there is a time gap of 150 years between the original novel’s publication and the movie release, the film’s creators have succeeded in accurately depicting the book’s characters’ worldviews.
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The Movie Background
The central persona of the movie is Jean Valjean, a French prisoner who has just been released after his 19-year sentence on parole. He was incarcerated for stealing bread to feed his nephew, and now he cannot find work or a place to live due to his paroled status. The only person willing to help him is Myriel, the Bishop of Digne, who gives the former prisoner shelter in his house. Valjean does not show much gratefulness for Myriel’s kindness and makes an unsuccessful attempt to steal his silverware, getting arrested by police soon after. Nonetheless, the bishop asserts that he gave the items willingly and then tells Valjean to use the stolen silverware to begin a new, honest life (Hooper, 2012). Myriel’s deed significantly affects the worldview of the former prisoner, so he assumes a new identity and starts to seek redemption for everything he has done previously in his life. However, a former prison guard named Javert, who is now the police chief, threatens and hunts Valjean as he has suspicions about his true identity.
Valjean’s worldview essentially changes after the bishop hides the crime from the police and absolves the stealer peacefully. Therefore, the worldview of this character can be divided into two major periods of his life: before and after he has met Myriel. In the beginning, Valjean’s life was dishonest but straightforward, just as his worldview: he tried to earn money and obtain food by any possible means, even the illegal ones (Hooper, 2012). This worldview was solid as even 19 years in prison did not change it, and Valjean made another attempt to steal from the only man who was willing to help him. However, the criminal’s acquaintance with the bishop shatters Valjean’s worldview (Hooper, 2012). Now he wishes to redeem his former crimes and evil deeds, and that desire eventually leads Valjean to become a mayor of Montreuil, helping other people and taking care of them.
Myriel’s worldview is precise and constant due to his primary beliefs and kind heart. He does not blame Valjean after trying to steal from the bishop and does not reveal the former prisoner’s actions to the police (Hooper, 2012). Moreover, Myriel allows Valjean to keep the stolen silverware and edifies him, telling him to use everything he has stolen to start a new life (Hooper, 2012). These actions exemplify the strength of the bishop’s personality and worldview. He is optimistic that people who have lost their way, even the worst of them, have a chance (and a right) for redemption and forgiveness. In addition, Myriel’s worldview implies that he cannot be hurt or offended even by people whose actions are intended to harm him. The bishop knows well of people’s imperfections and understands that everyone can make mistakes, yet there is always a way to fix them and become better.
Javert’s worldview is controversial as, throughout the movie, this character has made several difficult decisions regarding his duties as a police chief and his efforts to be an honorable man. When Javert reveals Valjean’s real identity, he starts pursuing him, aiming to prove that the new mayor of Montreuil is a criminal and put him back in prison. However, the policeman’s attitude to Valjean changes when he sets Javert free instead of killing him (Hooper, 2012). Although Javert still pursues his nemesis after that, he cannot bring Valjean to justice after catching him and lets him go Hooper, 2012). The police chief is not able to deal with the moral consequences of his decision, which is why he kills himself, drowning in the waters of the Seine River (Hooper, 2012). In other words, Javert makes a choice of honor, but his worldview is based on justice and faith in the law. The police chief cannot make a different decision, but he also cannot forgive himself for that choice.
Overall, the worldviews of the movie’s characters differ in many ways, and all of them are explicitly depicted in the film. Valjean’s worldview and whole life significantly change after the bishop forgives him for his crime and even helps him redeem. Myriel’s worldview is steadfast and unshakeable as he is tied to his beliefs and never deviates from them. Finally, Javert’s worldview is unstable as he struggles to make the right choice, and his uncertainty eventually leads to suicide. The worldviews of these characters are a crucial element of the movie since Valjean, Myriel, and Javert all have to make uneasy decisions based on their vision of the world.
Hooper, T. (2012). Les Misérables [Film]. Universal Pictures.
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