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Phelan: ‘Les Mis’ shows humanity’s innate ability to find hope

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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The newest movie version of “Les Misérables” hit theaters Christmas and has already earned well over $200 million at the box office worldwide. I should tell everyone reading this right now – I account for about $25 of that. No, movie ticket prices haven’t risen dramatically. I’ve just seen it three times because I absolutely love “Les Mis.”

Another warning – I also have seen the theatrical production three times. I read the book my sophomore year, and I recently read the original French version outside of class, on my own. Why? Well, I saw the movie with my mom, then with two different friends of mine. I saw it on stage twice for school, and I brought my family once. As for the books, I really just like reading. But what is it about “Les Mis” that allowed it to win huge at the Golden Globes and keeps people like me coming back?

Truly, it’s about the story. Jean Valjean is the main character, and he was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. After breaking parole, Valjean interacts with the other characters so that their lives can never go back to the way they were before meeting him. Each character has an extremely rich back story, complex personality and different way to connect to the human spirit. Anyone who has ever regretted a decision can see themselves in Valjean, and women can see themselves in the complicated relationship of Fantine and Cosette.

I’ve always liked movies that actually relate to real life more than unrealistic ones. And despite the fact that I don’t live in 19th century France, or burst into patriotic songs every few minutes, “Les Mis” – the book, the musical and the new movie – presents a genuine and wonderfully realistic view of life. Alhough the name quite literally means “the miserable ones,” every character’s misery eventually ends. Victor Hugo portrays misery, loss and devastation, but he also shows humanity’s innate ability to find hope.

Perhaps another reason why “Les Mis” is coming back into vogue right now is because of the theme of revolution in Act II. I spent this semester researching world revolutions and connections to today in an independent study, and I kept finding remarkable parallels from the Middle East right now to my favorite musical. I hope that other people can see and appreciate these similarities, but I think I’m the only person nerdy enough to compare Bashar Assad to Javert.

I don’t think most people are making political comparisons. I think the majority of “Les Mis” fans are just people who are simply enthralled by the outstanding performances and beautiful music. And I think Victor Hugo would be just fine with people not analyzing his characters and comparing themselves with Cosette. I think he, too, would appreciate a break in the hardships of life to appreciate something beautiful.

• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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