The 2012 movie version of Les Miserables reminds me of the reception of Mumford & Sons’ latest album. Throngs of adoring fans, having awaited the releases for some time, made both huge commercial successes, both were then widely panned by critics for being too earnest (and thus unbelievable), and both were sorta Christian. The differences are important too. Whereas Babel generated a surprisingly hostile review from a significant number of critics, Les Miserables is holding out at a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards. Another key difference, from my point of view at least, is that I mostly didn’t like Mumford’s new album (really liked the first one, but am now a little worn out by the monotony), but I absolutely loved Les Miserables. I came very close to feeling those dreaded emotions after watching it, and you can ask around, that’s not a common occurrence for me.
Now, I’ve read a lot of criticisms of Les Miserables. The New Yorker, somewhat predictably, turned their collective noses up at it. Anthony Lane did his usual cynical routine, and David Denby, usually the good cop, was even worse, saying that, “It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive.” Oh well. At least Adam Gopnik liked it. I’m not too bothered by The New Yorker. It’s a publication for people who think of themselves as intellectuals, which is a distinct group, actually, from mere intellectuals.
More relevant to my circles, and more directly challenging towards my own sentiments, are those critiques coming from Christian viewers. I’ve seen the basic concern that Victor Hugo was himself not a Christian, along with other criticisms about the too-heavy emotions of the movie, the perils of Romanticism, and the overshadowing of any true message of grace by a sort of Enlightenment humanism. Here I was thinking that I’d seen a profound presentation of the impossibility of law, but perhaps I’d been mistaken. What are we to think of these observations? Continue reading