A Feeble Attempt to Review Les Miserables

Dec 26, 2012

The opening of the new movie version of Les Miserables reveals both its virtues and its main challenges. A great ship of the Napoleonic era is being dragged into dry dock by a huge gang of miserable prisoners, dozens of them wrangling it with ropes while themselves waste deep in the turbulent water, dozens more standing on tiers to do their miserable share. Javert, the guard, stands above them, looking down significantly on the prisoners.

It takes you there, as we like to say, in a way that the musical can't do, and that is precisely the power of film. I was asked recently why I like the Godfather trilogy so much, the implication being that so much bloodshed and evil behavior doesn't merit so much appreciation. And it doesn't, of course. I suppose some people like it for the blood and violence and cleverness. However, Aristotle gives a better explanation. He says in his Poetics that man by nature loves imitation. At first I didn't know what to make of his statement, but over the years I have become convinced that it might e one of the most insightful things ever said about human beings. We are an Image of Another, and as image we cannot be fulfilled until we are like Another. So we spend all our days and nights trying to find others that we consider worthy of our imitation. That drive spills over into our leisure time. A healthy soul delights in things well imitated. (An unhealthy, undeveloped soul always needs some sort of moral or lesson. This soul imitates Javert.) For this reason, we love stories, which are imitations of life. We love music, which imitates the movements of the soul. We love film because it can bring the two together in a basically inexpensive and convenient way (have you been to Broadway lately?) Film can attain a verisimilitude that plays and musicals would be silly to even strive for. This gives them the power to tell a story in a way more emotionally penetrating, though perhaps more risky, than other forms. When I saw these men straining their feeble muscles on the ropes to pull a vast ship into dry dock, I was immediately more intimately connected with the physical world of 1815 France than the musical, live, 10th Anniversary, or 25th anniversary could bring me. Of course, it remained an imitation. I was not there and I couldn't feel the water washing over me and, thank God, I could not smell the smells of human agony that would have permeated the world of this film almost from beginning to end. The power of Les Miserables is in the story, and the challenge to the production team is to tell the story effectively. See it as a contest if you like. Who can tell it best? What is the best format? How will it have the deepest impact? How will it most powerfully reveal its truth? The live musical? The selected songs? The full movie? Or could it be the novel? I prefer the Classics Illustrated comic book myself, but I won't pretend it leads me to tears. The film is daring, which it would have to be to assume the challenge of a combined masterpiece of music and narrative like this. Anne Hathaway magnificently imitates the ruin of a woman (Fantine) who yearns to be honorable but loses everything at the hands of a greedy, envious, petty world. While I do not know music so I can't comment critically on her voice, I can say that her presentation of Fantine's song is, as I suppose it must be, the high point of the movie. So much emotion and so much loss merits a song that breaks the heart. While her version is not as beautiful as Ruthie Henshaw's (what could be?), it is powerful, and the context in which it is presented makes it overwhelming. Here at last, I thought, is the cure for the Disneyfication of little girls. If you let your daughter watch the Little Mermaid, please let her watch this too. Yes, this is a mature theme. But so, if you haven't noticed, is The Little Mermaid. The difference is authenticity. Disney imitates on the screen the most inane fantasies of an adolescent girl. Les Miserables imitates the truth that "there are storms we cannot weather." Watching her sing, I felt a renewed hope that the movie going world could grow up. I love the way the Fantine is isolated on the screen. I loved it so much I didn't really notice it until well into the song and it wasn't driven home until the same technique was used, though less effectively, with Marius' "Empty Chairs" after the battle at the barricades. Throughout the movie things that the musical could only hint at are presented in their visual fulness. For some of us, that enables the story to penetrate more deeply. Fantine's song must be the best example. Some mattered less than others, such as the barricade scene, some more, such as the journey through the sewage. The main point of this post is to say that the new film version tells the story with a fresh power, a new perspective, and at times a raw emotion that reaches parts of you that other versions don't reach. It is not perfect, but it does the story justice. It reminds us again that law seen as an unchanging, merciless force that maintains order for its own sake (the older brother) will always be in conflict with "the song of angry men" who are excluded by the old order. It reminds us of the essential truth that only love matters, that the only one who can save this world is the one who believes that the riches of this world are a mere shadow of the promised inheritance, that clinging to this world turns us into envious, angry, striving, divisive people whose only hope is a good story.  

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Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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i really appreciate your thoughts on this, andrew. thanks.

Actually, not only men commented in support of this movie. I am the mother of 6 children, and while I would not expect my middle-school daughter to see the deeper meaning of this movie (and therefore she won't be seeing it yet), my teenagers are well able to see the point of that "sexually explicit" scene - the point showing human beings being reduced to their worst state because they think they have no other way of getting money to feed themselves. Also, there is another point - their society is so dreadful that it sentences a man to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread, and it does nothing to take care of its poor, forcing them to lose all sense of decency, all hope, and all of their youthful dreams.

I read this post while I sat in the theather waiting for Les Mis to start, and I have been following the conversation here with interest. I agree with Andrew about Anne Hathaway's performance - it is by far the best scene in the movie, and her performance is far more moving - and, I dare say, authentic - than any full-throttle Broadway rendition could be. The conversation here, however, seems to have been hijacked by that one Disney comment. Andrew's main point is that the movie version tells the story in a fresh way that allows, by virtue of its medium, a greater verisimilitude. I actually disagree with this. Outside of the opening sequence/Valjean at the Bishop's, I found the movie to be less compelling than either the stage production or the staged concert versions. For example, I feel that Tom Hooper handicapped the actors by freezing them in the frame for their songs. It works well to underscore Fantine's isolation, but one of the strengths of cinema is to show action! That's what actors do. To isolate the actors so severely puts all of the emotional burden on the music - and I thought the score, as well as the voices, were not up to the job. I thought this movie failed to harness the power of the story and music by failing to harness the power of its own chosen medium.

I do feel compelled to stick up for Andrew about the whole Disney thing. His text actually says "daughters" not "children" - I thought the need for age-appropriateness was implied. Fantine is an antidote to the Disney princess machine only insofar as they are all fictional characters and they deal with the fantasies and dreams of youth. Disney's The Little Mermaid was engineered to appeal to preschoolers (a problem in itself); Victor Hugo had adults in mind, I presume. The two do not appeal to the same audience. I understood Andrew's point to be that if we welcome Disney's mermaid into our homes (when appropriate), we should also welcome Fantine (when appropriate), as a way of examining these dreams and fantasies.
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The world of Les Miserables was such a difficult world to live in. This is part of the reason why Les Miserables is such a powerful story is because suffering people helped each other in their suffering. Valjean gave Fantine grace- by offering back her dignity, and raising her child. That was the first time Fantine was ever shown grace and kindness. But if we as viewers did not watch the misery of Fantine's life leading up to that moment, it would not be as powerful a story. It is in the contrast between the good and evil that we see more clearly the redemption of Fantine. There is so much more about this that I could say, but I'll conclude to remind us that "To love another person is to see the face of God," and through Fantine's suffering and the grace that Valjean offered to her, we as viewers see the work of the gospel. This is why watching the misery of Fantine, even the prostitution (to a certain extent-) is important because we as viewer's understand Fantine's position. We don't have to condone her behavior, but we can have empathy for her. This is an amazing story of self-sacrificial love that has been instrumental in understanding this part of the gospel and the human story. I think that children will understand the depth of it's meaning, though I agree that it depends on the parents to determine whether or not they are ready for watching such a film. But I would say that the misery of Fantine is necessary for understanding the rest of the story and it's implications.

"Here at last, I thought, is the cure for the Disneyfication of little girls."

This might have been my favorite line in your review, then I scrolled down and saw that it was most people's least favorite line and creating a wonderful heated debate. Yay!

Here goes--I watched this with my 3 children ages 16, 18, 21. Hardly a day has passed in their lives when they have not been assaulted by corrupted sexuality--billboards alone are constantly inviting boys to desire and girls to become. This sort of sexuality--alive and well in 21st c America--is the flipped side of what Fantine experienced in the dock scene. It's lurid, it's self-gratifying, objectifying, and ultimately TS Eliot's laughing skeleton, it has nothing to do with love. The film exposes this and then shows precisely what its opposite is--sacrificial love in all forms, all faces: a wronged priest, a unrequited lover, a mother, etc...It also shows the deepest truth that we are here to love each other by emptying ourselves, that this act is eternal and has lasting memory in the lives of every individual it touches, that we will be healed and will heal through love, that we can live next to utter degradation and challenge its terms with love that does not seek its own.

If all the movie showed was the dock scene, that would be one thing. If my kids were 13, that might be another. But this is a superb rendering of WHY WE ARE HERE and what we need to be about and a perfect answer to the degradation and nihilism by which we are surrounded.

Thank you, Andrew and David!

Christine Perrin

Great comment, Christine. I absolutely agree!

I agree that this is a wonderful film and I *did* take my children (daughter and son) to see it. It's a beautiful story about redemption, and one I hope my children take to heart. It's definitely worthy of study in our homeschool.

Just because something is classical does not mean it is appropriate for all to view. I just saw the movie last night and as a happily married mother of four, I looked down several times because we should guard our hearts and minds, that's what God teaches in His Word. Images stay for a lifetime, and I want my daughters and sons to have a beautiful first image of sex, as God intended.

The message can come across just as clearly without so much sensuality. We need not 'experience' ALL sin to understand redemption. And praise God for that!

This is from a mom who does not allow her daughters to watch Little Mermaid.

I would be very interested to see a response to this comment from Andrew. Particularly about the idea that film claims to be real in a way that books do not. Would we not get the powerful example of redemption by reading the book?

I am a bit baffled by the amount of attention placed on the sexual nature of this film. It seems we're missing the forest for the trees. But since we are the subject, I'll share my personal insight. While the dock scene was certainly raw and emotionally intense, the wicked nature of prostitution was fully captured without being overly explicit. The actual prostitution act was fleeting, and there was almost zero nudity. As one reviewer has already pointed out, our children are inundated with more explicit images in the checkout line at the grocery store, images that glorify worldy sex. The sexual material in this movie accomplishes just the opposite. It captures the sheer evil and darkness of man's abuse of sex, while eliciting overwhelming compassion for those who have been forced into this horrific lifestyle. While we are blessed to live in a country where we are able to protect our children from such hideous acts, millions of children around the world are not so fortunate. Fantine's world is their reality.
My husband and I allowed our two oldest children to watch the movie. Thankfully, I was prepared for the dock scene, and insisted that my daughter look down for a moment. Moreover, the film inspired deep, meaningful conversation for our family. I'm not a bit concerned that they left the movie haunted by dark imagery. On the contrary, they were inspired by the beauty, grace, hope and redemption demonstrated in Valjean's life. They were enlightened by the contrast between the pharisaical nature of Javert and the unconditional love and forgiveness of Valjean. They were challenged by the devotion and sacrifice of those who died while fighting against injustice. I could go on and on. I honestly can't remember watching another film that portrayed the Gospel story as profoundly as Les Miserables. With that said, I have no regrets about taking my children to see this beautiful film.

There is no reason for either a woman or a man to ever need to explicitly see a rape scene, which is essentially what that scene is, for any reason. We would all get it at the deepest level (if we are truly human) if it was implied by showing them going into the ship and seeing her left alone afterwards. I loved the movie but was disappointed that, yet again, Hollywood feels the need to have scenes like that graphically shown. It is an image that NO ONE needs to see.

"It’s not so much a suggestion that Les Mis is fit for young girls...."

But that *was* the suggestion. Implicit in the words "please let her watch" is that it is fit to be watched. The antidote to the false superficiality of Disney is NOT a too-immediate and potentially harmful taste of the flip side of that coin--at least not for children.

This is more than an issue of individuals deciding what is appropriate for their own families. I am dismayed that so many Christians take such a cavalier view toward the aggressive assaults on our children's purity coming from every corner--and most insidiously from us parents and educators, us guardians and transmitters of the true faith, when we allow them to see and hear things which their minds and souls are not yet ready to properly assimilate. And books and plays do not possess the same power as movies--so this is not even about the content itself as much as the method of delivery via the pseudo-realism of film that bypasses the intellect and goes straight for the gut.

And this matters greatly to me--as indeed it should to all of us--because regardless of what I teach my children, *your* children are *my* children's and grandchildren's future friends, spouses, teachers, mentors, and leaders. *All* of our children will play their part in the renewal of--or continued destruction of--our common faith and civilization.

None of the comments about how beautiful and powerful the story is, or about the teaching opportunities present in such gritty material, or about the cathartic effect of experiential art, address the primary objection to Mr. Kern's review: That he, an influential, well-respected commentator on matters relating to the formation of souls to behold truth, would say that parents *should* allow their children to see this kind of content in a film.

Dear Mr. Kern,

I venture to pose two objections to your review because I am very interested in knowing what your response would be to them.

The first is to the proposition that "if you take your daughters to see Little Mermaid, you should take them to see this," the idea being, I suppose, that Les Miserables presents truth whereas Disney movies present falsehoods. The reason why I think no parent should take a child to see either movie lies partly in my second objection, but partly in this: The visualization of Fantine's prostitution--and the decidedly un-lovely ladies and their un-lovely acts which accompany it--are not things that adolescents should be so brazenly confronted with, as not only is it diametrically opposed to the Philippians 4:8 things that they--and we--ought to spend the majority of our time contemplating, but also because its stark crudeness so richly visualized could have a malformative effect on still-developing adolescent sexuality. Do we say this is acceptable in an "art" film because it depicts a poignant reality whereas of course it's unacceptable in a modern teen flick? To which it may be objected that obviously parents have to make these decisions for themselves, and if I'm uncomfortable with this, then I certainly don't have to take my own teens to see it, but others may have a different view. I say to that, why do we not hear a general Christian outcry against the subjectivization of what is acceptable for children to be exposed to? Why is it not deemed as desirable to bring back standards for what children ought to see and hear in their leisure hours every bit as much as the "norms" that Christian classical educators seek to reintroduce into educational models?

It may also be pointed out that there is a puritanical tendency in this line of thought, and that we can't "shield" our children from all the evils of the world--they need to know about it to be able to deal with it. For heaven's sake, we couldn't let them even read the Bible if we were to carry this too far! The reply to this is encompassed within my second objection: What you laud about the art of film--its ability to portray reality in a penetrating and powerful way--is more than "perhaps risky," as you say. I think it's actually deceptive. Words, written or spoken, point to things, but never claim to be the things themselves (post-modern literary theories notwithstanding). Only one Word, of course, was ever the Thing Itself, but every other word serves as a medium for truth. We instinctively know this when we read, which is why we can read about monstrous evil and delectable beauty and be moved to hate what is bad and love what is good in this most natural, and human, of "story-telling." The world of film is something entirely different: It pretends to be "real," because it looks and sounds and almost feels real, but isn't. It doesn't enter through the mind--it enters through the emotions, but not like music or painting or even live theater does, where whatever emotions are evoked, there is still a firm grounding in the knowledge that this is one representation of an aspect of truth (or falsehood) and it doesn't make the all-encompassing claims on truth that film does. Art imitates life, but doesn't claim to *be* life--except for film. And that is more than just a little risky--especially when we're not just talking about an intimate connection to something as neutral as "men straining their feeble muscles on ropes," but an intimate connection as well to evil things that threaten to penetrate the soul.

This doesn't mean I or my children never watch films (though I might have gone that way if saner minds had not prevailed...). I understand there is a balance to be struck; that the tools of modernity can be wielded for good, and that a visual medium can possibly bring truth to a visual age. But very much more caution needs to be taken in harnessing this power than what I see, even among those who are committed to restoring and defending Truth, Goodness and Beauty in every other aspect of their lives. As for Les Mis and Little Mermaid, I'll stick to Victor Hugo's and Hans Christian Andersen's versions for the time being and hope for a restoration of more than just educational norms.

I think the difference here is that the sexuality isn't presented as "fun" or pleasant in any way. It is a woman being sold because she has nothing left that others value. It brings tears, not "impure thoughts".

can we extrapolate truth without experience? surely without the first-hand sort. but without second-hand experience through narrative - literature, film, and storytelling? i don't see how. i'll think on it.

i am sure chesterton would say the same of film he did of books - a film without a wicked character is a wicked film. a person without need of redemption cannot be redeemed. we may think a character too wicked, but to what extent did we require redemption?
as an aside, and in my opinion, the scene with fantine was explicit in nothing but her shame.

This review and the comments justifying having our children witness such sexually explicit scenes (and adults for that matter) prove to me that though men might be "smarter," they are not always wiser.

Unlike animals human beings can extrapolate truths without experiencing them.

Kathrine, While in theory I agree with that, I think it misses the point about the nature of art, and especially the purpose of film. What Lewis, Tolkien, Eliot, and O'Connor were getting at is that there needs to exist within the work what Eliot may have called an "objective correlative", following along with O'Connor when she said that redemption is meaningless in a world that doesn't clearly need it. If a work of art, and especially a film, is going to work then they would argue that that work necessarily needs to have form/content that inherently matches the themes/ideas the artist is presenting. And, since art is experiential, the work needs to provide an experience that places the viewer in the center of that world so that they ultimate representation of the truth the work embodies can be experienced in the fullest, most pathos-based fashion.

So the idea isn't that children should watch sexually explicit material, but rather that what makes Les Mis a good film is pretty much what makes a movie like The Little Mermaid a poor one. So if you're going to let a girl watch the former film THEN you should let her watch Les Mis. It's not so much a suggestion that Les Mis is fit for young girls as it is a suggestion that the Little Mermaid may not be. Or that's how I read it.

I had the privilege of playing in a very small pit orchestra last spring, accompanying a musical-numbers-only production of Les Miserables. Having had no previous knowledge of the story, I came to the beginning of tech week simply trusting in the person who called me for the gig. My first impression was one of disbelief and horror at the sexually explicit material during the dock scene, and I thought, "Why did I say yes to this?" I was puzzled when the pianist told me she had seen 11 different Broadway productions of the show. What on earth could be her attraction to this?

As each day of rehearsal progressed, however, I found myself beginning to be wrapped up in the story, the tragedy of lives trapped against a wall, pinned there by others' greed, ambition, pettiness, and by their own abject poverty. I pondered the questions raised by Jean's conversion, his skipping out on parole to make a better life, always trying to follow the higher Authority who gave him strength and hope to carry on. I pondered upon the idea of how he led a life of deception regarding earthly authorities, yet seemed the most noble of all. The thread of his story is the very one that made me shed tears at the end. True redemption of a man accused of being a petty, worthless thief by those who don't have a bit of compassion but claim to be right with God; that is, the character of Javert, the self-righteous officer, portraying a type of person who lives blindly by superficial rules but never truly takes God into his heart. The character of Jean, on the other hand, struggles throughout the story as he tries to honor Him above all things while living in a terribly desperate, corrupt society. It is this rising of his character above all the surrounding filth that is the theme of this story, and it is powerful indeed.

By the end of the week, spending time every day with the story and accompanying its remarkable musical setting, I was smitten with the overall beauty and power of the entire production. The musical themes are brilliant in their own right, but the story and its representation of character types also caught hold of me. Besides the main theme of Jean Valjean, the array of different characters with their varying degrees of faith in God (starting all the way over on the spectrum with the Thenardiers' complete lack thereof) provide food for thought in a compare-and-contrast richness I have never before experienced in any story. How would any of us have survived had we been in the situations of either Fantine or Valjean?

As a side note, in response to your comment about The Godfather trilogy, Andrew, in a similar way to Les Miserables I think it is the transcendent story that captures the imagination - not the violence or bloodshed, but the tragedy of a good man who originally came into "business" trying to protect the weak. His mixed virtue confounds (i.e., he is beautifully faithful to his wife, but orders murders?). His son is the ultimate tragic character, vowing never to be a part of the business yet sinking fully into it and becoming a cold-blooded persona. That story is portrayed so vividly it makes one want to pray for the conversion of Michael Corleone! In all these are tragic characters fleshed out so artfully that they capture one's thoughts and awaken questions of what if...any one of us were put in this situation or that. And then I thank God I have never found myself in any of those situations.

Fror what it's worth, I believe that T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and many other Christian writers/critics - to say nothing of hundreds of critics and authors who may or may not be Christians - would argue that unless we can witness and experience the violence of the Godfather or the tragic fallenness/brokenness of the women in Les Mis than the story would fundamentally be a failure. As Flannery O'Connor wrote, redemption in a perfect world is meaningless. Unless we can experience - unless we cringe and gasp and are horrified saddened by what we witness - then the ultimate redemption of the characters won't be as meaningful, can't, in fact, be as meaningful.

If we are properly teaching our children to be discerning than such things will be horrifying to them and they will rejoice in the redemption of the broken characters.

For some wonderful further reading on this subject, check out Jeffrey Overstreet's wonderful book "Through a Screen Darkly".

I agree with Andrew, David and Joan.

I am curious how you justify watching the explicit sexuality in this movie and recommend that we should allow our children to watch this as well. I am guessing that you will use a sort of "ends justify the means" thinking, but I do not want those images imprinted in my memory and especially that of my children, leading them into temptation to impure thoughts. When we pray, "lead us not intro temptation, but deliver us from evil" why would we knowingly lead our children and our own selves into temptation? I honestly expected more discernment coming from you.

I want to thank Mr. Kern for initiation this discussion around the film Les Miserables. The root question is a question which each teacher, be he parent or trained pedagogue, must ask: Is the learning encounter which I have in mind for my pupil or student more likely to enhance the acquisition, internalizing and living out of the great virtues - cardinal, capital and Christian - or is the danger that the contemplated learning encounter will be counterproductive and detrimental to the goal of instilling virtue?

There are numerous variables which one should consider when contemplating such an encounter. What are my own motives in wanting to use a given element, in this case the current movie Les Miserables, as a learning encounter? Are the risks associated with it (There are always risks!) outweighed by the potential gain? Is the element to be encountered age appropriate? Are my students, based on what I realistically know about them, mature enough to deal with the risk factors? This list of variables could be expanded.

Do I allow my survey of the arts students to study a photo of Michael Angelo's "David"?

Do I allow my religion class to see "The Passion of the Christ"?

Do I allow my history students to see "Schindler's List"?

Do I allow my literature students to read the novels of Flannery O'Conner, who said that the write must steer a course between sentimentality and pornography, pornography being for her gratuitous sex which was not necessary to the unfolding and impact of the story?

Do I allow my students to read through the orgy of Walker Percy's "Lancelot" to get to the final words of the priest?

Thank you, again, Mr. Kern, for introducing this discussion.

P.S. Just in case anyone is unclear: Don't confuse Disney with The Brother's Grimm. The original fairy tales are awesome! :D

Or also with Hans Christian Anderson. Although his Fairy Tales are a little on the too weird for me side, they are a whole lot better than Disney. {will try to stop spamming now--is there not a way to edit a previous post if you want to add something?)

(Disclosure: I have not seen this movie but I would like to make some general observations.)

Re: Desensitization. And: What is "art?"

Another problem left unaddressed in this conversation is the problem of desensitizing. So much emphasis in this discussion on the "pro" side is about placing " the viewer in the center of that world so that they ultimate representation of the truth the work embodies can be experienced in the fullest, most pathos-based fashion."

It used to be that it took much less to gain the understanding of what was happening and to feel the tragedy of it all. As a personal example, I have always been very careful about the movies I watch. Graphic scenes of violence disturb me. Scenes depicting actions that are to be holy-- between a man and wife in the privacy of their home make me embarrassed. When I was in college I went to see a PG-13 movie with my sister. Normally I stick to PG movies. One third of the way through I was so broken-hearted that I went out into the lobby and sobbed uncontrollably. We had to leave without seeing the rest of the movie. I think I sobbed all the way home--a 30 minute drive.
After I met my husband I sat through more and more movies that were more violent than what I would usually watch. (I still shy away from rated R). Years after the "movie theater incident," I watched that same movie again so I could see the ending. It did not affect me nearly as much as the first time when it sent me away sobbing. In fact, I didn't even shed a tear.

Why is this? I had been desensitized because of watching more graphic movies with my husband over the years.

So in essence, we are making ourselves UNable to experience pathos or put ourselves in anyone's world when we desensitize ourselves. Once we have watched several movies like this, I believe the same level of graphics will no longer be sufficient to keep us interested or to touch us emotionally or spiritually. Then the movie producers will have to think of novel ways to increase the graphics of sex, violence, and whatnot in order to draw us in again.

Although I have used a personal anecdote to illustrate my point, I think we are all aware of the problem of desensitization. It happens with movies, porn, music, etc. I'm sure if it's as intense as has been described I would probably not be able to make it through this movie. And the images would leave a permanent negative imprint on my mind. If that's how you define art, I don't want it. So how to define art...

Last personal anecdote: Two years ago I went to see the ballet "Romeo and Juliet" by the Russian National Ballet. When it came to the love-making scene--it was the most passionate thing I've ever scene. They did not take off their clothes on stage. They did not touch each other in certain places. They did not move out of the realm of classical ballet. But I knew exactly what was going on and I felt their passion. (Couldn't wait to get home to my husband...tmi) Making an audience feel that passion WITHOUT being explicit IS ART. Anyone can make you experience pathos with explicit scenes, that is NOT an artistic talent. Using art to make people experience a moment--either good or bad--takes a lot more talent and subtlety.

In conclusion: Overly graphic movies are A. desensitizing, which robs us of the joy of appreciating other less graphic movies, and B. not art.

That is all. :)

I thought Fantine's "graphic" scence was so intensely powerful and showed the truth about the death of sin in a way I have almost never seen. When Fontaine sings the lines of Lovely Ladies:

"Just as well they never see
The hate that's in your head
Don't they know they're making love
To one already dead!'

As she whispers "one already dead" and turns her face with this blank, horrifically alive-but-yet-dead look, it encapsulates the reality of someone who is physically alive but spiritually dead in a way I don't know that I have ever seen. The scene was not gratutitious. It was the truth.

If I may add (though I'm not yet a parent), I think it's worth remembering that rape and violence are very much the norm for women and girls around the world. According to one source, women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined (http://www.halftheskymovement.org/issues/gender-based-violence - scroll down for an infographic on the topic).

I'm glad that's not the case for many of the parents posting here. But when your children grow up, they are going to experience failure, pain, and hurt at some point in their lives. They will also be around men and women who have been victimized in terrible ways. It is important to help children dream big and see how wonderful the world can be, but at the right age, it's also important to show them how terrible the world can be - and how the love of God can help us rise above and move past brokenness, failure, and deepest loss. Unless we understand that and have good stories and good people to point to and shape our own beliefs when the time comes, we have no way of communicating the Gospel with those who have experienced pain and brutalization.

Even more importantly, we have no way to move past it ourselves when our dreams don't work out the way we hope they will. Our theology and our savior need to be strong enough to bear all the weight of brokenness, or our faith becomes a watered-down imitation of the truth. How to do that is up to individual parents, but that's why combating the Disneyfication of children is so important. For many families, Les Mis may well be an excellent way to begin the conversation.