Can you hear the people sing?

Les Miserables is a fabulous movie, and from what I’ve heard, also a fabulous musical. The music is phenomenal, the story is powerful, and the emotion is almost overwhelming. After I first watched it, I stumbled out of the theater awe-struck by its beauty, certain that it would win every sort of Oscar imaginable. Andrew Lloyd Weber deserves to be remembered throughout history as a composer on the level of Beethoven and Mozart, a genius like Einstein. To my dismay, Les Mis has not received very many awards. My family and I (even those who didn’t really like the movie) thought that it was robbed (but that’s another story).
The film uses a variety of cinematic techniques to fully convey the story and help viewers identify with characters. Les Mis is very long, and I’ve heard some object to its length (mostly family members and friends). In my opinion, Les Mis is an appropriate length, and the film is not so long that it bores me. I still cry at the end of the movie, even though I’ve seen it multiple times, and they aren’t tears of relief that the movie is finally over. The fact that the movie can still cause that emotion after so many other emotional scenes shows that it maintains an appropriate discourse time. In fact, much of the movie seems very rushed, as if the producers are racing to capture a few moments within a certain year, and then fast-forward eight years into the future to portray the next phase of Jean Valjean’s life. As the movie progresses, each scene and year receives more detailed attention, so that the viewer truly gets a sense of the importance of each event.
Despite its fast pace, the film contains many pauses in the action as well, what we’ve defined in class as “lyrical interludes.” We have discussed how Tolkien and Jackson use songs as lyric interludes within the Lord of the Rings novels and movie. However, Les Mis takes a slightly different approach, since the whole movie involves singing. Usually an interlude takes place when a character is by themself. The camera will usually zoom in on his or her face, and the music often changes. There are too many incredible interludes to discuss in depth, but many interludes are scenes when a main character prays or reflects on his or her life. The two most famous female interludes include “I dreamed a dream” and “On my own,” by Fantine, and Eponine, respectively. These are very heartbreaking and emotional reflections on distressing events in their lives. On the other hand, the protagonist, Jean Valjean, has a variety of interludes with many different forms of emotions. He expresses gratitude towards God and the bishop for saving him, shows doubt and temptation in “Who am I?,” and fear in “Bring Him Home.” Almost all of Valjean’s interludes are portrayed as prayers, so the audience understands that he is expressing very intimate thoughts.
The film uses a variety of shots to show point of view for several different characters. One would assume that since Valjean is the protagonist, he would be portrayed with many shot/reverse shots to help the audience identify with him. As we discussed in class, the film will show a character’s reaction to something he or she sees, and then the scene will cut to the person or object the protagonist is looking at. Les Mis uses this technique during very early expository scenes in which Valjean attempts to find work, but he constantly is refused, beat up, and kicked out of places. The viewers see his tormentors, and they can identify with is feelings of fear and rejection. The audience also sees the looming dark walls when Javert is chasing him, and they can receive the same emotions of distress and fear as he escapes with Cosette. “Bring Him Home” also shows what Valjean sees as he watches Marius sleep and prays for his safety.
On the other hand, many supporting characters also have scenes of shot/reverse shot. For example, we see Fantine’s fearful and pleading face during “At the End of the Day,” and then the camera shows the manager leering down at her as he kicks her out of the factory. We see her lying in bed at the hospital singing to Cosette, and then the scene shows a “ghostly” image of the girl walking towards Fantine. However, when Valjean arrives, he cannot see Cosette, so we know that we just witnessed the apparition from Fantine’s perspective. Marius also has several shot/reverse shot scenes in which the audience sees his perceptions of Cosette as he talks to her. We watch him look at Cosette with love when he meets her and when he talks to her at her house. The most dramatic shot occurs when Marius wakes up after the battle to find his father leaning over him. This clearly puts the audience in Marius’s mind, because the camera mimics his blinking eyes and confusion. We can hear singing in the background, and as discussed in class, this sound seems to reflect that he may be the only one hearing the music. These scenes help the audience understand what is going on in the story from each character’s perspective, and it also helps the audience place themselves in different character’s shoes.

I would like to thank sparknotes for helping me understand the movie before I watched it for the first time.



One thought on “Can you hear the people sing?”

  1. I too loved this movie. Before this class I simply watched movies for entertainment, but as you brought up this movie is an excellent example of shot reverse shot and lyrical interlude. These aspects of the movie can go unrecognized by the uninformed watcher, but now whenever I see a movie I understand the subtle effects that change how we react to a scene or relate to a character.

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