A Thought Regarding Eight Lines Of Dialogue In The Recent Les Miserables Movie

(I intend to return to “the writing of Timekeeper” series shortly, but for the moment, a comment on a different subject.)

I know the stage show Les Miserables very very well, and in consequence there is a lot I could say about the movie. So much that it’s actually prevented me from saying anything, up until now. But here’s one quick thought to start with:

I was most struck me by the brief Javert-Valjean scene between “The Runaway Cart” and “Who Am I?” (the one in which Javert says, effectively, “Wow, m’sieur le mayor, you really remind me of this convict Jean Valjean. But you can’t be him, he was just re-arrested. I apologize for what I just implied.”)

The movie version gave extra lines to Javert, which (I believe) harken back to the source material, but for sure weren’t a part of any of the stage performances I’ve seen. From memory (and with help from a bootlegged script that I found on the net immediately after I saw the movie but can’t find now 🙂 ):

M’sieur le mayor, I have a crime to declare

I have disgraced the uniform that I wear

I’ve done you wrong, let no forgiveness be shown

I’d be as hard on any rogue I have known…

I mistook you for a convict, I have made a false report

But now [line I can’t remember about the real convict facing the court].

He must pay, and so must I.

Press charges against me, sir!

I wouldn’t have thought it possible to communicate “I deserve to be punished” that many times in eight lines.

The addition of this sequence makes the later line “I am from the gutter, too” strike the ear differently. Javert is usually portrayed as a man adhering to a rigid externally-imposed code of conduct, perhaps because he has no internal compass, perhaps to prove to everyone including himself that he is not like the rest of the rabble born in the gutter, perhaps both. But with the addition of the eight lines quoted above, Russell Crowe’s Javert begins to seem like a man punishing rogues from the gutter as stand-ins for himself. “They must pay and so must I.” Suddenly his predilection for walking on parapets looks different, too, and some of the body language during the barricade sequence and the final meeting with Valjean suggested to me a man trying to commit suicide by convict. Because… that’s the way he can be punished enough? Because only that can confirm him as not-a-rogue and no longer deserving of punishment? “Shoot me now or shoot me later.” “Shoot me now for all I care.” I don’t think it was bravado – I think he was actually hoping one of them would.

Comments (1)

DSS94April 21st, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The line you’re missing is “Now I learn they’ve caught the culprit. He’s about to face the court.” Also: “And of course the thief denies it. You’d expect that from a con. But he couldn’t run forever – no, not even Jean Valjean”

Very thought provoking entry! Definitely provides clarity on the way Russell Crowe portrayed Javert.

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