If you have three hours to spare, go and see Les Mis. It won’t expand your understanding of pre-revolutionary France, but it does say a lot about some of the toxic vacuity the modern left’s favourite nostrums
If you want to see why Obama is President of the United States go see Les Mis the movie. I saw it on the stage in the 1980s when, to my surprise, I found without any hesitation that the supposed great villain, Inspector Javert, is the hero. There he is, upholding the law against cutthroats, thieves and revolutionaries, while the forces of disorder attempt to tear down what little civilisation there is.
I wouldn’t have mentioned it, since I thought it was a pretty straightforward example of leftist propaganda, except that my wife, who is pretty reliable on such things, took it all in, just as she was meant to. Even then I wouldn’t have mentioned it except for a review by John Boot at PJ Media, where the opinions ought to be as reliable as my wife’s, but instead we find something altogether different.
Maybe I should have lightened up and just listened to the music and watched the spectacle, but what was unmistakable to me is just how wrong the morality is, which totally spoils the rest. Boot describes the film as an “epic, two hour and 40 minute story about freedom, love, sin, redemption, justice, poverty and revolution.” To me it is a two hour and 40 minute indulgence in the worst kind of socialist idiocies. Some nice tunes, great cinematography, lovely acting — but such a repulsive, moronic story.
I know it’s all in the novel. But even so, how anyone with a conservative disposition can watch this parade of inanities without gagging I do not know.
I do not doubt that justice was by our standards pretty harsh back then. We are so much more “enlightened” today, given how light-handed our justice system has become, and the story lets us pat ourselves on the back for how much more tolerant we are of theft, given how much richer we have become. But right from the start it is hard going to see Jean Valjean as a pillar of society. The only person willing to give Valjean a hand ends up robbed of his silverware. That the Bishop, improbably to the maximum extent on which an improbable plot twist can turn, then tells the police that he had given him the silver and also hands over the candlesticks, which Valjean had supposedly forgotten, is so stupid a premise that it is plain insulting to have to endure the rest. But let that go.
Paris was filled with prostitutes with young children to support, so why Fantine and Cosette are singled out by Jean Valjean is a mystery that never seems remotely probable. The landlord and his wife, on the other hand, are out-and-out thieves, if not worse. But Sacha Baron Cohen and his on-screen wife, Helena Bonham Carter, are presented as no more than a pair of rogues. They are plot devices that do not work for me, but I have endured worse and enjoyed the film.
What does get to me are the revolutionary scenes at the end. They are hard to bear for their sheer idiocy, with the young revolutionaries portrayed in all their romantic stupidity. That anyone can watch and worry over the fate of such barbarous fools taking up arms against the state and not see in them the great tradition of all such revolutions is quite a wonder in itself. That audiences around the world have taken to this story and give their wholehearted support to the revolutionaries at the barricades only demonstrates how lost as a culture we may be. Our value system is shot to pieces. Our instincts are completely wrong. Think Lenin. Think Mao. Think Castro. Why we should have an ounce of sympathy for these people and those like them eludes me.
The absence of a sense of history and any notion of the realities of early nineteenth century poverty turns the plot into an anachronistic tale of inverted injustice. The assumption that infuses the plot is that there was some means, some unspecified mechanism, that could have lifted living standards, given everyone more to eat, better places to live and less hunger, if only the right people had been in charge. It is the social system that is at fault and we are to sympathise with those who wished to overturn the system . . . and do what?
Thomas Sowell has a few Christmas reflections, one of which is this which seems to capture my own mood in watching this film:
“The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good.”
Les Mis is a homage to the wrecking crews. Do see it, since it will likely be the picture of the year. It is a spectacle and important as a cultural artifact. But weepie though it is supposed to be, if you are like me, you’ll be able to leave your handkerchief at home.
Steve Kates’ most recent book is Free Market Economics: An Introduction for the General Reader