by Randall Allen Dunn
Some people will never believe you can change.
Having known you at your worst, they expect little of you. Little success, little achievement, little desire to do what’s right. They’ve already labeled you, based on your previous crimes, and nothing will remove that label from their minds.
The 1998 film, “Les Misérables”, shows us such a person in Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush), a hard-nosed officer pursuing justice by the book. He has no qualms about admitting his own parents were criminals themselves, or the fact he is convinced they cannot change their ways. In his opinion, it has been proven that criminals cannot change.
Which is why he refuses to believe any such change has taken place in Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), the paroled convict he now suspects is pretending to be reformed while acting as mayor of Vigau.
Javert doesn’t know what happened to Jean Valjean shortly after his parole. That he spent the night at a church, where Bishop Myriel (Peter Vaughan) welcomed him in, though he knew Valjean was a convict. That Valjean talked about becoming a new man, but his limited job prospects led him to steal the church’s silverware instead.
That he lied to the police who caught him, saying the bishop gave him the silverware. That the police joked about his lie when they brought him to the bishop in handcuffs.
But Bishop Myriel told them it was true he gave Valjean the silverware, but was angry with him because he forgot to also take the silver candlesticks, which are far more valuable.
The police released the stunned Valjean, who privately asked Bishop Myriel why he was doing this. The bishop reminded Valjean he had promised to become a new man. “Jean Valjean, my brother. You no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I’ve bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. And now I give you back to God.”
This was how Valjean received the freedom and the means to start a new life, and the conviction to make it a good one. Not one of anxiety and thievery, but one of kindness and charity, giving the best of himself for the rest of his days.
But if Javert had known this, it wouldn’t have mattered. He would still insist that everyone is born as either a criminal or a law-abiding citizen, and destined to die as such.
After Javert spends years hunting him down, Valjean finally gets the chance to do away with him and live his life in peace. A group of revolutionaries capture Javert and plan to kill him, but Valjean insists on having that pleasure himself. He takes Javert to a back alley where no one can see them and asks Javert why he keeps chasing him across the country. Javert warns Valjean he’ll never stop hunting him, so his only chance for freedom is to murder him, like any other criminal would. So Valjean draws his gun … and fires into the air. “You’re dead, Javert,” he says, and walks away.
Javert finally catches Valjean as he is escaping through the sewers with Marius (Hans Matheson), a wounded revolutionary who is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette (Claire Danes). Valjean persuades Javert to release Marius, since he is the one Javert wants. Javert permits Valjean to take Marius home to let Cosette care for him.
Meanwhile, Javert sits and thinks about Valjean, who served as a benevolent mayor in Vigau and then as a father and upstanding figure in Paris, organizing a soup line for the poor. When Valjean returns, Javert confesses privately to him that he cannot make sense of Valjean’s kindness and law-abiding nature, given his criminal background. “It’s a pity the rules don’t allow me to be merciful,” he says. “I’ve tried to live my life without breaking a single rule.”
He confirms that Valjean does not wish to return to prison life, then offers to spare him that torture. Valjean agrees, and waits for Javert to shoot him.
Instead, Javert releases Valjean and places Valjean’s handcuffs on his own wrists. Valjean stares in shock, as Then Javert plunges backward into the Seine River, drowning himself.
This film pares away many elements of the original Les Misérables novel and presents a clear illustration of the gospel: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Those who live by the spirit of the law can’t understand those who live by a spirit of life and grace. Jean Valjean received grace and spent his life extending that grace to others. Javert tried to live according to the letter of the law. But when his life no longer made sense – when he couldn’t justify either condemning or freeing Valjean – he condemned himself instead. As the Bible also says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” James 2:12-13.
According to the Bible, no one can become righteous by making their best moral choices. Righteousness is given by God as a free gift, the same way Bishop Myriel freely released Jean Valjean into a new life, free of condemnation for his past crimes. When someone receives this gift of freedom, they can live a new life, bestowing that same grace on others. But when someone like Javert insists on pursuing righteousness by upholding the letter of the law, they end up condemning those who live by grace. Their own self-righteous efforts ultimately fail, and the spirit of life and grace puts the spirit of the law to death.
If you have made such a change in your life, don’t wait for people like Javert to accept you. Some people simply never will. But you don’t really need others to understand your new life or give their approval. You just need to focus on maintaining the change you’ve been blessed with.
Find more reviews of “Les Misérables” at amazon.com!
by Randall Allen Dunn
Sybil Strang can’t help being suspicious of the nervous man loitering in the convenience store at closing time. But did she really see a gun inside his rolled-up newspaper?
Young Sybil Strang is ready to close up Quick’s Convenience Store when a man with a scraggly beard enters and begins wandering the aisles. A man who might be hiding a gun.
But with the deputy just five minutes away and a phone in the back room, there’s no reason to panic. As long as Sybil was right about what she saw …
Tuesday, January 1st, 2013