Les Miserables Tom Hooper Commentary

So last night, once again, I watched the DVD of Les Mis the Movie, but this time I watched it with Director Tom Hooper’s commentary. I wanted to know why he did some of the things he did with the music itself, and how he chose some of the scenes he chose.

First of all, he did the beginning with the convicts bringing in the badly-damaged war ship, as a sign that so much of the mistreatment of the people, both in jail and out, was because of the need for money for the military. Sound familiar? And throughout the movie, a lot of the dark scenes of the poor and starving were shown as being underneath ships. Interesting analogies. Where Fantine finally ended up, in the prostitution arena, was done under the bow of a damaged ship. And it represented the downtrodden as being in the darkness of hell, down as far as they could go. Yet each time a scene changed for the better for one was the picking up of them and carrying them up stairs to the light. This particularly showed with Valjean rising from the pits of the prison to the top of the mountains, and to the top of the town where the church was that taught Valjean of the lightness of a higher cause. When he tore up his parole papers, one shred was shown as floating upward to a opening in dark clouds to bright light.

The second time was when Valjean carried Fantine out of the pit to the hospital. This was representative of Valjean having each event carry him more and more from hate to redemption.

Tom Hooper referred to the book more than he did to the plays for a lot of the scenes and choices he made as director. I knew Hooper’s name, but did not know why I knew it. He was the director of The King’s Speech, for which he won best director a year or so ago, and eased the pain of not getting the director’s award for Les Mis.

The scene where Valjean has rescued Cosette from the Thenardiers, when Jackman sang the new song Suddenly, represented his discovery of love. So now Valjean with Cosette not only learns redemption, but now he is learning love. At a later point in the movie, Hooper quotes the book as that Valjean came to overlove Cosette (emotionally, not physically) by seeing her as “mother, wife, child”, so it was hard for him to let her go to another life. Thus he has a difficult time at the beginning after she and Marius meet letting her go to another man. That he does, and that he indeed works to bring their union about, speaks again as to how Valjean keeps growing.

So once he finds out about her love for Marius, he goes to the barricades where the students are determined to bring about revolution. This was an action he was trying to stay out of because he would return every nine years to running from Javert. Tom Hooper seemed to find it interesting that Victor Hugo spelled Valjean with “vj”, and Javert with “jv”. I don’t remember a comment about that in the book. Well, it has been about three years since I last read the book, and now I will be looking for Les Miserables to own it so I can read at least bits and parts now and again.

An explanation of Eponine’s different fate at the barricades comes from the book itself and Hooper decided to use it. The two plays tell us that Eponine was injured as she came to the barricade to find Marius. As we see in the movie, and is told in the book, Eponine has found a letter from Cosette to Marius to explain that her father was taking her away, and Eponine decided to not give it to Marius. When we see her at the barricade, where she has decided to take the letter to him after a while (after her song in the shows), she sees Marius in the line of fire of a soldier’s gun, and she throws herself in front of the gun to help Marius. That shows how very much she loves him and wants him to live. That makes the song much more poignant.

Hooper explains that when he first put the movie together, it was about four hours long. He had to cut a lot of music in order to get it down to a more workable 2-1/2 hours for the theatres. So we lost a few words of songs especially around the barricades particularly. He also moved a few songs, such as Fantine’s song, to different parts of the movie, thus we get Fantine’s song about betrayal and loss after she has had her first prostitutional encounter, which seemed to fit better than in the plays where it was right after she was fired from the factory.

Hooper also explained that some of the scenes involving Javert and Valjean were beefed up a little to show Javert’s slowing climbing toward the suicide which would eventually take him. His direction worked for me once I heard him explain why he made some of the choices he did. He did not at all explain why he chose to have Javert fall into the river instead of hanging himself in the sewers, except, his comments about the weirs in the river looked like and eye calling Javert in. I think that is interesting, and again, as I said in a earlier blog, I personally liked the suicide scene better because of it. Not that I will ever dislike Philip Quast’s rendition in the 10th anniversary musical. Quast was just so good, but Russell Crowe’s suicide was beautifully done, and very much a representation of his falling from the highest part to the lowest part. Incidentally, Hooper said Crowe did the dive himself, although they had a stuntman do the slipping into the river part.

It was an “aha” moment for me when I realized the ending, with all those people were on the barricade at the end singing “Tomorrow Comes”, and wondering why Cosette and Marius wasn’t in it, that those were all the dead people in heaven as Valjean enters, and Fantine returns. Just seeing the two plays I did, and not an actual play itself, did not give me that impression, even though Enjolras and Grantiere and all the students were in the finale in the two salutes (10th and 25th). Tom Hooper said originally a sign was put across the bottom of that photo saying that it represented the 1848 barricade where the people finally won their revolution, but he decided it was not appropriate and that it was better to just represent the people who were involved in this part of the revolution. I think his original thought was to show everyone as they would have looked in that future time, but that was not what the movie was about, and it was best just to salute those who were involved. I think I might not have liked that alternate ending, as this one satisfies me.

Now, about the elephant. At least one friend has asked me about it, and I had no answer for him. And I knew it was in the book, but I could not remember. Tom Hooper said it was a monument built by Napolean I as a memorial for one of Napolean’s battles. And that it had crumbled over the years between. The people in this story had fought off monarchs and at the time of this story, Napoleon III was on the throne. And the people did not want a king, and that is why they were fighting this second leg of the French Revolution which lasted over about 100 years. I’m not quite clear on the whole history – if anyone wants to know more, there are many good books about. I’m not sure I care about the whole thing as I am just caught by Les Miserables, this story, and the music itself with all the shows I’ve seen. The ideas of redemption, revolution and love appeal to my very romantic heart.

Well, this may be the last of my many blogs about Les Miserables, at least until I reread the book, or actually get to see the play in person. I believe Tom Hooper has made a movie that finalizes the reason I love the story, and I’m not sure I need to say anything else. If anyone has not read the book (it is very heavy reading) or has not seen the movie, I think you too will feel the way I do unless you are strictly interested in the history around the French Revolution itself.

I always find it a little odd seeing a movie, knowing it is never made in order of the show; he said the death scene with Cosette, Marius, and Valjean was the first shot he did with Amanda and Eddie and Hugh. And it did not take very many takes to get it. Movie-making has got to be a strange career, and yet when I was 17, I wanted to attend the Pasadena Playhouse of Performing Arts, but could not get the support of any of my parents, and girls just were not taught they could do things independently in those days. I have often wondered who I would be today had I had the chance to study acting and maybe been in the movies all those years ago.

Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

About carolstepp

Music is about the most important thing in my life, and I follow a large number of musicians, particularly Irish, Scots, Classical, Crossovers of any of these. I was writing a blog about Celtic Thunder regularly on MySpace, and now I have left them after a year, and will start writing my blogs here. I am 70, retired, living on Social Security, and have a lot of social network fans.
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