The 2012 film, Les Misérables took the world by storm when it premiered with an incredible cast, moving music, and astounding attention to detail. The movie, based on one of Victor Hugo’s most famous works, Les Misérables is yet another film based on a famous book and is a prime example of the reward that using incredible attention to detail when adapting literature for the silver screen has. Turning a 1,200-page book into a two-hour film is no easy task and requires the use of heavy symbolism to deliver a clear, strong impact on the viewer. The use of different locations, characters, as well as the impact of music throughout the film’s epilogue scene compared to the book's conclusion are deliberate and calculated which more clearly deliver the message of redemption and closure to the audience in a way that is captivating and symbolic. One of the first differences the viewer notices between protagonist Jean Valjean’s death in the film and his death in the book is the location and timeline of his death. In both works the main cause of Valjean’s death is his sadness and longing for Cosette, as well as his loneliness and old age.
To place emphasis on his sadness and loneliness, the film places this event directly after the wedding of Marius and Cosette, as opposed to the text which places his death some time after the wedding. Although this may be seen as a strategy to cut down time and get rid of clutter within the movie, the choice also serves as a method of further cementing the theme of redemption and impacting its audience in a greater fashion. The ‘epilogue’ scene in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables begins with Jean Valjean sitting alone in an empty church, with candles lit around him and soft music playing in the background (Les Misérables, Hooper). This is the same church that Valjean entered at the beginning of the movie and shows how his journey has finally ended at the same place it commenced so many years before. This parallel is also used to illustrate the completion of Valjean’s path toward redemption, and how he first entered the church as a criminal and is finally leaving it as a good, redeemed man. The scene also happens at a different time within the Les Misérables timeline. The movie places the event directly after the wedding of Cosette and Marius, while the text places it sometime after. Hugo writes, “In a moment, a fiacre was at the door…’Driver...Rue de l’Homme Armé, Number 7’...’Oh! what happiness!’ said Cosette ‘...We are going to see Monsieur Jean.’ ‘Your father! Cosette, your father more than ever...We are going to bring him back, take him with us, whether he will or no.’” (Hugo, 390).
The timing difference apparent between Victor Hugo’s book and Tom Hooper’s movie is also very important to the overall message that the death of Valjean brings. This decision to move up his death in the movie emphasises the reason why Valjean died and connects his death more directly to finally losing Cosette and finishing his final mission. These decisions in the movie help to best show the message of redemption in an impactful way and keep the audience captivated throughout the movie, while staying true to the themes in the book. Another notable difference between the portrayal of Valjean’s death in the book versus his death in the movie is the appearance of Fantine and the Bishop. In both the film and the text, there is a reference to the bishop, but the movie magnifies this brief appearance into a scene revolving between bringing these two characters together. The setting change from the Rue de l’Homme Armé in Hugo’s work to the church in Hooper’s helps to amplify this change further. In the film, as Valjean awaits his death, Fantine appears, and acting as a kind of ‘angel of death’, begins to ready Valjean for his upcoming demise. After Cosette appears and says goodbye to Valjean, Fantine begins to sing once more and guides a now dead Valjean out the church doors, where the scene culminates with Valjean, Fantine, and the Bishop singing a final line before the cast’s finale (Les Misérables, Hooper).
This scene places Fantine and the Bishop in a central position, unlike the book which simply states, “It is probable that the Bishop was indeed a witness of this death-agony.” (Hugo, 397). The choice of placing these two characters in prominent positions within the scene is a strategy utilized by the filmmaker to add poignancy to Valjean’s death, as well as to further cement the theme of redemption in the mind of the audience. The appearance of Fantine consoling a lone, dying Valjean shows how Valjean has finally learned to love and how he has redeemed himself through his love for Cosette. The presence of Fantine also symbolizes the end of his journey, and how he has finally accomplished what God planned for him. Later, when the Bishop appears out of another door, the topic of redemption is driven in once more. The Bishop brings the audience back to the beginning of the movie, when Valjean first appeared as a convict. Now he appears once again to symbolize how Valjean has changed his ways, and the Bishop is now guiding Valjean towards the Kingdom of God because he sees that Jean has finally completetd his life’s work and is now redeemed and worthy of entering into Heaven.
The choice by Tom Hooper reminds the audience of a cold and broken Valjean, and establishes how the 2 characters that began Valjean’s journey toward redemption, are now content and guiding a newly redeemed man into the Kingdom of God. Finally, the use of music throughout the scene acts as a very powerful reminder of this same theme. The music begins immediatley upon the comencment of the scene and continues until the credits begin to roll. At the beginning of “Epilogue”, the music is very quiet and solemn, and Valjean sits alone staring off into the distance singing, “Alone I wait in shadows/I count the hours until I sleep/I dreamed a dream Cosette stood by/It made her weep to know I die/Alone at the end of the day” (Les Misérables, Hooper). This choice of beginning the scene in near silence, as well as the dark, lone lyrics aid in highlighting the loneliness Valjean feels, and the pain these last moments bring him. These words also set up the rest of the song for the audience and show that Valjean thinks that his daughter no longer cares about him, but has replaced him with Marius. The music slowly builds as Valjean, alone and in pain, begins to pray for Cosette and Marius, he sings, “Take these children my Lord to thy embrace/And show them grace/God on high/Hear my prayer/Take me now” (Les Misérables, Hooper). The songwriter is trying to convey a feeling of humbleness, and show that even in death Valjean cares more about the wellbeing of Cosette than his own.
The increase in volume and instrumentation also demonstrates that this is a very important moment in the song, and that Valjean is finally accepting his redemption and his completion. Some time later, Fantine appears, echoing the same melody she sang earlier in the film during “Fantine’s Death”. She sings softly to Valjean, “Monsieur, I bless your name/… Monsieur, lay down your burden/… You’ve raised my child with love/… And you will be with God” (Les Misérables, Hooper). She is telling Valjean that he is finally redemmed, and that he is now, after many trials and tribulations, finally worthy of being with God. Fantine also shows gratitude toward him for raising her child well and for loving her. Later on, Cosette and Marius appear and after seeing Valjean, Marius exclaims, “Cosette, your father is a saint” (Les Misérables, Hooper). This admittance by Marius that Valjean is a good person, and that even he now sees him as redeemed helps to really drive in the theme of redemption, and shows Valjean that he can die with no ‘loose ends’. Valjean finally feels at ease and completely calm, and for the first real time acknowledges his own redemption.
He sings, “Now I can die in peace/For now my life is blessed/… On this page/I write my last confession/… It’s the story/One of who turned from hating” (Les Misérables, Hooper). This self realization shows the audience that Valjean is finally at peace, and that he finally knows he has completed his life’s journey. The climax of the song is after Valjean dies, and is being led to Heaven by Fantine and the Bishop as all three of them sing, “To love another person/Is to see the face of God” (Les Misérables, Hooper). This final climax, with all three voices in harmony and the hero going to heaven content and at peace leaves the audience with closure, and ends the entire story with the theme of redemption and love, as well as acknowledging that Valjean has finally come full circle. The song and the movie finally end with a triumphant reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing” as Valjean finally enters the After-Life and is now, after much trouble, redeemed and worthy. Throughout the entire Epilogue scene Hooper establishes Valjean’s redemption and love through the use of location, characters, and music. The use of these 3 methods, and the saturation of symbolism and meaning throughout, help leave the audience captivated, and portray the message that Victor Hugo gave throughout the entire book. To both Hugo and Hooper, Valjean embodies the spirit of redemption and love, and although both take different avenues to show this, the final scene is a moving example of the power of redemption, love, and salvation, and a stark reminder of the potential everybody has, regardless of thier past.
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