Now with pictures! Lighter, less filling!
Somewhere, sometime, there’s a box with a necklace in it, and hands that want it. Remember This. This Will Be Important.
The inimitable Liam “Qui-Gon” Neeson trudges down a muddy road with his faux-Jedi hood up. He sees a town in the distance as the sun sets.
Some time later, he’s snoozing on a stone bench. Some old witch is bothering him about sleeping there, apparently concerned with his comfort, although she is certainly sending mixed signals, poking and pestering him when he’s trying to sleep. He says he has no money to get a room in an inn (a lie), and then claims he’s knocked on “every door” (another lie). “You have not knocked there,” the old bat says, pointing at a corner house. Liam is like, um, no, I haven’t knocked there. Why did he bother lying about that? I mean, he’s rejecting a possibility of a good night’s sleep for sake of saving face. He’s proud and dumb. Fantastic.
In the house indicating by the old lady, the bishop and his housekeeper, Madame Magloire, are preparing for dinner. The bishop’s sister cries from being cut. Madame Magloire is setting out the expensive-looking silverware. Remember This. This Will Be Important. They hear a knock and go together to answer the door to goggle unattractively at Liam. He is immediately invited in and just as quickly growls, “Look. I’m a convict. My name is Jean Valjean. I’ve served nineteen years hard labor. They let me out four days ago. I’m on parole.” I think I see a flaw in his sales pitch.
The couple just stare at him, because he’s already been invited in. He shows them his passport. “I can’t read it, but I know what it says: ‘He’s very dangerous.’” Valjean could read in the book, but thus begins this movie’s obsession with literacy. Also, if I were a prison guard, I would totally write something like, “This man is a mean grump, and likes to be called Kittens” on his passport. The Bishop waves his hand to stop Jean Valjean digging a hole for himself, addresses him as “monsieur,” and invites him in again.
“I’m a convict! You saw my passport,” Jean Valjean protests. Jeez. You’ve been invited in. I guess this obstinacy is a defense mechanism: “Of course they rejected me; I gave them all the reasons up front.” The Bishop says he knows who he is, but leaves out the touching “You are a child of God” in the book. “You’re going to let me inside your house?” Jean Valjean says blankly. Okay, feed him. His short-term memory is going.
Dinner. Jean Valjean slurps his soup. Otherwise, he has pretty good manners for a convict. Madame Magloire asks him what he did, and he growls, “Maybe I killed someone.” Long retarded pause. “How do you know I’m not going to murder you?” Oh, please. Like that delicate Roman nose of Liam Neeson’s would have survived a brutal prison brawl. Though Google tells me that his nose was broken at age fifteen. Hmm. Anyway, I think he was miscast. He is rather tall at six foot four, and has a presence, but he’s too innately intelligent and not hulking enough to be the brute that is Jean Valjean.
Valjean has mock-mock-threatened to kill them, and the Bishop replies, “How do you know I’m not going to murder you?” It’s funnier if you know the Bishop is giggling in the inside. Jean Valjean is humor impaired. He explains that he stole some food, and was sentenced to nineteen years in prison. (To tell the truth, the bulk of those years were for attempted escapes, but JV doesn’t go into that. Hell, I’m going to call him JV from now on.) So, he’s out of prison, finally, but he’s branded with the yellow passport and doesn’t know what to do. He laughs humorlessly and grunts, “Nineteen years, and now the real punishment begins.” He might be more intimidating if Neeson wasn’t so obviously Acting.
Most of the Bishop’s preaching is cut out. JV insults the Bishop’s god, then thanks them for the eats and sleeps, saying it will make him a New Man. Remember This. This Will Be Important.
It’s funny. The only thing in life he’s tried to accomplish is stealing shit, and he sucks at it.
Night. JV sleeps, and has Flashback of Trauma™. Apparently the galleys are located on a blue-tinted matte painting. Work consists of swinging hammers in slow motion and pretending plaster rocks are heavy. JV carries around a particularly big one, then falls. Dramatically. To the ground. A guard starts kicking him and JV tries to steal his boots. What a super-lame flashback. Also? Jump-cuts and slow-motion don’t go together. Oh, and we see a close-up of a guard. Remember This. This Will Be Important.
JV awakes with a start. It’s still in the middle of the night. God, that blue filter looks shitty.
He goes to the dining room, pulls out the silverware case, and puts the pieces in his knapsack, not bothering to be quiet. It’s funny. The only thing in life he’s tried to accomplish is stealing shit, and he sucks at it. See? The Bishop totally woke up, and calls out, asking if anyone is there. Why, I don’t know. I mean, he was pretty much counting on JV stealing the silver (he says so later), so why disturb him mid-theft? Hearing the approaching Bishop’s voice, JV ducks behind the cabinet, though he’s somewhat taller than it and still visible and he left his knapsack and the silverware on the table in plain view. Idiot.
The Bishop shuffles to the table and stares at the evidence of the crime. He’s aghast. WHY?! YOU EXPECTED THIS! In about half a second, the Bishop has discovered JV’s “hiding place,” and he looks fearfully at JV’s expressionless face. WHY?! YOU IDIOT, YOU KNEW HE WAS GOING TO STEAL YOUR SILVER. NEXT TIME, STAY IN BED. JV somehow pimp-slaps the Bishop into unconsciousness, and runs like a scared bunny. Eh. I don’t really believe it. JV is a bitter idiot at this point, but he was never a violent criminal. Then again, the Bishop was asking for it. Whatever.
Morning. Madame Magloire is crying over the empty silverware case. The Bishop, hoeing in his garden, snaps, “So we’ll use wooden spoons! I don’t want to hear anything more about it,” which is the punchline to a very funny scene we were deprived of. Boo. He’s barely spoken when a gaggle of gendarmes haul JV into the garden. “You caught him! Oh, thank God!” Madame Magloire exclaims. Idiot. Let the Bishop handle this. The Bishop, displaying his BWS by ignoring a question about his black eye, seems to be angry at JV, who is claiming that the silver was a gift and he was just running because it was, you know, a good day for it. Breezy, and all that.
But, oh, snap! The Bishop backs JV’s story up! He’s just angry at JV for running out without his silver candlesticks that are apparently even more valuable than the silver. Heh. The Bishop is totally taking the mickey out of JV for being a lousy thief while playing this head-game with him. The head gendarme buys the story despite the suspicious behavior of everyone present and the Bishop’s fricking huge black eye. France’s finest. The Bishop gets rid of the policemen by offering them booze, sticks the candlesticks in JV’s knapsack, and pulls the faux-Jedi hood off JV’s head.
“Don’t ever forget. You’ve promised to become a new man.” JV is like, promised? Heh. The Bishop is putting words in his mouth, and if can’t protest without admitting to stealing from him. I should point out, the book line “You have promised to use this silver to become an honest man,” is better. JV is upset and about to cry. The Bishop’s expression is a little ambiguous. Any moment now, he’s going to say, “Nah, I’m just dicking with you. Police, arrest this little fucker!” “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I’ve bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. Now I give you back to God.”
The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!
(Oh, come on. I was so going to make that joke.)
Javert gives him a look that Kay might give the yipping alien pug dog in Men in Black.
“Nine years later,” Geoffrey Rush is ugly wearing a funny hat in a carriage.
He strolls into the police station, and introduces himself as Javert, the new police inspector. The captain was taking his lunch break, but he’s nice enough about the interruption, and reciprocates the introduction. Javert gives him a look that Kay might give the yipping alien pug dog in Men in Black, and says, “You haven’t looked at my orders.” Zoiks. He’s that annoying kid from second grade who would report your paper-use infractions. The captain brushes it off and offers him lunch, but Javert just stands there until the captain picks up the papers and glances at it. Satisfied?
NB: the filmmakers changed the name of the town from the English translation’s M. sur M. to Vigau. I was always amused by this instance of protect-the-guilty blanking, because it’s not actually hiding anything. It would be like mentioning the great city N--- Y--- C----, or L-- V-----, or S-- F---------. Anyway, the town’s name in the French version is Montreuil-sur-mer. Why not use that?
“In Paris, things are miserable,” Javert monologues as he and the captain take a look-see around town. “Crime is rampant. The streets are filthy.” Porn is free. Skirts are high. Necklines are low. Booze is plentiful. “Conditions here are much better.” The captain, who has a girly French accent, agrees, and suggests they visit the “tile and brick” factory owned by the mayor. Apparently the mayor was just a lowly worker, bought it when it was bankrupt, brought success to the entire town, had to be coerced to take public office, and now spends his time as a phila - phila - good-deed doer.
“Some people think he’s crazy, but I like him,” the captain lisps. “I like him and I feel sorry for him.” “You feel sorry for the maaaaaaaaaaaaaayor?” Javert scoffs. “Because he’s lonely,” the captain replies. Javert gives him a look that says, “That sounded so gay, girlfriend.” Javert’s looks are very expressive.
Inside the mayor’s simple little house, the mayor is concentrating on something on his desk (Remember This. This Will Be Important.), with his back towards the audience. I think his chain-mail wool shirt is supposed to distract from the fact that it’s Liam Neeson. Captain I’m Not Gay, I Just Feel Sorry For Him tells the back of his head that the new inspector of [Montreuil-sur-mer] is here. The mayor is like, okay, he doesn’t need to report to me. “But Monsieur le Maire, if you don’t permit the inspector to report, I think he will burst into tears!” Cpt. ING,IJFSFH replies. The Mayor turns around. It’s JV.
You’re shocked, right?
No, really, weren’t you shocked?
I like what he did with his hair. I think that’s a red rinse.
But, really. What a tweest!
Javert scurries forward with a shit-eating grin, already butt-kissing the mayor, but this obsequiousness is lost on JV, for Javert’s ugly mug has triggered a Flashback of Trauma™! For, yes, Javert is none other than the random guard from the earlier Flashback of Trauma™! It’s pretty funny if you think that from Javert’s point of view, the mayor stares at him with abject horror for a moment, then abruptly demands to hear his name again. Javert apologizes and starts again, but JV interrupts to say, “You haff papers.” Javert apologizes again, and hands over the papers. JV has a sudden, urgent need to hide his face, and scuttles out of the room, throwing a few polite words over his shoulder. Cpt. ING,IJFSFH is indignant that Javert scared his darling mayor.
Man, those knee-length coats were spiffy. I’ve got to get me one of those.
“Brick” factory. God, they made jewelry in the book. Black jet beads and bracelets, I remember. Why change something arbitrarily? I’m pretty sure Victor Hugo put thought into what he wrote. The lady who oversees the female part of the factory explains that JV redesigned the shop to separate the men and women. Fantine, played by Uma Thurman, sees Javert but goes back to her work. Somehow, somebody drops something and something is broken. The point is, the woman Fantine is working with doesn’t like her, they fight, Fantine drops a letter and the other woman picks it up.
Javert’s domicile. Javert sniffs a little snuff. Trying to convince me that he’s human? Well, it won’t work.
Bank. JV is withdrawing everything. The bank manager is disturbed, and wants to provide him with an escort, but JV can handle himself. Breaking heads and finding answers. He says that it’s a business opportunity. So he’s still a compulsive liar.
[Jewelry] Factory. JV is packing up his briefcase as the overseer lady pesters him, waving Fantine’s letter. She says “one of the girls” is an unmarried mother. JV replies absently, “What? Is she a whore?” Hee hee hee! Probably out of character, but funny! JV apologizes for his potty-mouth, and when the overseer suggests they fire Fantine, he says he trusts her judgment. Remember This. This Will Be Important.
Man, those knee-length coats were spiffy. I’ve got to get me one of those. JV digs a hole with a itty-bitty shovel and buries his money under a spreading chestnut tree.
[Jewelry] Factory. The lady overseer takes Fantine aside and fires her.
So, she goes home and sells her furniture for the cash. (She needs to pay the family that keeps her kid.) Her landlord demands her rent early. Asshole. Fantine claims she has a job as a washerwoman, but the landlord already knows about her bastard child, and figures she can’t get work. “Things aren’t that bad,” he leers, however. “You’ve still got a bed.”
Barber shop. Fantine O’Henries her hair. I hope they wash the nits out of it before making it into a wig.
JV’s office. JV is dictating a letter to his clerk, something about charitable donations in honor of the now-dead bishop, and pauses to ask if he should say, “I would like to give,” or “I should like to give.” The clerk suggests “I should like to endow.” I think he’s making JV sound like a fussy old clerk instead of the straightforward guy he is. They are interrupted by the cry of an accident ...
... out in the factory yard. Some old guy’s ass is trapped under a cart. This old guy is particularly good at making funny-looking shocked faces. His eyes look like they are about to pop out of his sockets. JV pushes his way to the front of the crowd and snarls that they need “leeeeeeverage.” Javert stalks to the front of the crowd in order to stand and do nothing as JV and some workers attempt to leeeever the cart off the old guy’s ass. JV rips his coat off, squats under the cart, and Hulks out, lifting it with his mighty thighs. Javert flashes back to JV in prison; he seems to recognize more JV’s contorted face than his strength.
At night, Javert meets Capt. I’m Not Gay, Though I Show No Interest In These Prostitutes on the street corner. Capt. ING,TISNIITP is noting which prostitutes are working the corner, for some reason or another. He and Javert chat about the growing problem, which Javert chalks up to the increasing population, and Capt. ING,TISNIITP asks Javert why he showed up before his shift begins. God, everyone must hate Javert. What a little rule-abiding snitch. Javert pries into the cart affair, asking about JV’s “incredible strength.” “Well, he’s a big man,” ING,TISNIITP laughs. Ha, ha!
Javert, trying to keep it casual, asks where JV came from, and finds out that nobody ever checked his papers. Yes, I think we’ve established that Javert inordinately loves papers. Javert sees Fantine join the prostitutes, and ING,TISNIITP says she’s new. That might be impressive detective work if the other whores hadn’t started sneering, “Who are you? Go away!” the moment she walked up to them.
JV goes to the hospital where the old guy with the fractured ass is. This scene is kind of boring, so I’ll sum up: JV has gotten him a new job, at a convent (Remember This! This Will Be Important!), and given him a shitload of money. And ....
Remember: I’m Irish. I care about poor people.
JV sits in his office, sounding out the letter. Because, remember, he can’t read. I don’t know why the movie is obsessed with that fact. I keep expecting the “The More You Know!” logo to pop up, and the Liam Neeson to address the camera, like so: “In this film, Jean Valjean was able to overcome many trials of poverty, including not being able to read. Illiteracy is still a pressing problem today. Many adults world-wide struggle to find work because they can’t read the employment listings in the classifieds. It might help if the newspapers would increase the font size on the listings, actually, because I can hardly read them and it has nothing to do with my education. Not that I need to; work has been just pouring in, and even if it wasn’t, I’m a movie star, therefore fucking rich. I don’t need to read the classifieds. But many of the unemployed out there need to be able to read the classifieds. Heck, half of them want the worker to be familiar with Microsoft Office, and can you be familiar with Microsoft Office if you can’t read the little ‘Open File’ buttons? No, you can’t. The only illiterate who can work Microsoft Office is Bill Gates. Actually, not even he can work Microsoft Office. The point is, people need to read, so volunteer your time and money with the National Institute for Literacy, or your crappy local library that doesn’t even carry most of the Terry Pratchett novels. Thank you. Remember: I’m Irish. I care about poor people.”
Anyway. JV’s clerk tells him that Javert has come to see him, and JV makes him wait. Either just because, or to give JV enough time to put on a coat. He tends to dress up around Javert, probably to throw him off the scent. Javert, with his best suck-up smile, announces that Paris liked his plan, and holds out a letter, presumably from Paris. JV ignores the letter and asks what the plan was. Javert says it’s in the letter. JV’s like, that’s nice, just tell me. They could continue this for a while, but Javert abruptly apologizes. “I apologize. I forgot you don’t read. Your clerk mentioned it.” Then why’d you stick the letter under his nose, you dick?
Javert starts to speculate why JV can’t read, and it’s because he grew up poor, duh. I mean, everybody knows that. He was only a worker before buying the factory when it was bankrupt. Anyway, Javert’s plan is to conduct a census, to help with fighting crime. It’s not just an age-sex-name sort of thing. He wants to investigate criminal records and all that. JV points out that sometimes people want to make a fresh start, and prying into people’s pasts might do more harm than good. With Javert arguing for surveillance, and a police state, and government enforcement of morality, and JV arguing for privacy, flexibility, an economic safety net, and forgiveness they represent opposite political ideas, conservative and liberal ideas. And I stand somewhere between them.
“An honest man has nothing to fear from the truth,” Javert says. That explains it. JV is not an honest man. Actually, he’s a bit of a compulsive liar. “For example, Paris knows my father was a thief and my mother, a prostitute,” Javert continues. Holy childhood issues, Batman! Arrgh, this is so close, and yet, no cigar. Javert’s background does make up a really important part of his character, and explains a lot about his motivations, but would he reveal this to somebody he suspects of being a lying, scheming convict? I don’t think so.
Javert claims he would expose his (dead) parents if they moved to [Montreuil-sur-mer]. JV asks if he would stay this hypothetical exposé if his hypothetical not-dead parents had reformed themselves. Apropos of nothing, Javert is pretty solidly middle-aged; I would hope that someone his hypothetical mother’s age would have given up working the street corner. I’m extremely ageist when it comes to whores. Javert believes that “modern science” has disproved the myth of reform. Javert says, “A wolf can wear sheep’s clothing, but he’s still a wolf.” In sheep’s clothing. JV laughs.
He laughs as rarely as Javert, the book said. He gives Javert his sympathy for having to work in such a dull town, so lamentably bereft of serial killers, mad axe-men, and colossal crime rings, and that he’d be happier in Paris. Heh. Speaking of which, Javert is going to visit Paris to pitch his census idea. JV wishes him luck, then calls him to his office. He has a present for Javert: his papers! Oh, come on, you know hope much Javert loves papers. He gives him his baptism certificate, passport, and working papers. I know I already used this joke, but holy overcompensation, Batman! Instead of gleefully rubbing his hands over the delicious paperwork, Javert looks like somebody stole Christmas. Don’t you hate it when cases solve themselves like that?
This next scene is sort of boring too, so let’s move quickly. Javert goes to Paris. Paris likes his plan. Paris tells him to leave JV the heck alone. Javert doesn’t listen to Paris. Javert points out that all the papers are based on his baptism certificate, which is a copy from a church that conveniently burnt down. This reminds me of Pete’s Dragon. Now, seriously. If the boss of the job you want to get is telling you to do something, and you really can’t agree, maybe you should find another job to take.
This scene is also sort of boring. The pace is sagging, I guess. Fantine gets her letter from the Thenardiers read by a reader of letters. He has sort of a street-booth, but we don’t see Fantine pay him, so maybe he’s a charity reader of letters. The Thenardiers are being dicks and up the monthly fee to twenty francs a month. Fantine is devastated and sick. Scene.
She promptly keels over in her room. She’s sold all her furniture, except for her mattress. Does she service her clients on it? She should have found herself a pimp or madam, and used their facilities. Also, for the minor inconvenience of being regularly brutalized, she gets minimal protection! Band together, girls. There’s strength in numbers. When you choose a whore, look for the union label! So, her landlord is harassing her about her rent again. “I have bills. I can’t spread my legs,” he says. Fantine is claiming she can’t move. She has a bad fever, and is shivering.
Her landlord suggests she sells or pawns her necklace, and she replies, “Not this. It’s for my daughter.” I’m sure that after you DIE of hypothermia, your daughter will be so relieved that you never sold that necklace. I mean, damn. The pendant on that necklace had better be the French equivalent of the One Ring, is all. The landlord demands ten francs, or he throws her and her mattress out. Fantine pulls the blanket off her, exposing her nude, yet strategically covered, body. The landlord doesn’t jump her this time, though, for, like Chandler Bing, he doesn’t do sick people. It is pretty gross.
Remember, kids, the importance of your vast spy network!
The street corner. Fantine greets a couple of patrons, and one guy in particular makes fun of her price. Javert and Capt. I’m Not Gay, Just Sensitive, watch wordlessly. The assholes grab Fantine’s arms, and the lead asshole dumps a bunch of snow on her tits, then shoves some in her mouth. It’s really violent in comparison with the book. Capt. ING,JS steps forward, but Javert holds him back. Fantine falls to the ground, sobbing, then runs at Lead Asshole. Her attack was a lot more effective in the book. The focus of the scene has been changed, and I don’t really know what they were hoping to achieve.
Javert finally strides forward, and as Fantine cries that they started it, the big meanies, Javert slaps her across the face. No, he hits her with an open hand. This is not just out of character; this is character assassination. Javert tells the assholes to run home, and arrests Fantine. Capt. ING,JS scarpers ...
... to Jean Valjean’s, where JV is copying the alphabet with embarrassing, yet enduring, childish handwriting. He’s even sticking his tongue out. So cute! I still do that when I’m signing something. Capt. ING,JS shows up to tattle on Javert, as JV asked him to do. Remember, kids, the importance of your vast spy network!
So, a very bloodied, battered, cold, and wet Fantine is sentenced to six months. Fantine gives her sob story about her daughter, but Javert says that if the kid doesn’t live in [Montreuil-sur-mer], then he doesn’t care. Trying another tack, Fantine asks if the “gentlemen” had the right soak her dress with snow? JV appears in the doorway. Javert won’t change his mind, and says, “Even the eternal fire can’t change that now!” as they haul her away. “One moment, Inspector!” JV calls. Unfortunately, for that previous moment was picture-perfect (and, incidentally, just from the book), the script requires Fantine to say, “It’s you. You did this to me. You fired me!” before spitting in JV’s face, which is more than a little awkward. The soldiers promptly pull Fantine away, but JV orders her to be released. “What?” Javert exclaims. I wish he’d do the “O RLY?” face.
JV tells a big fat lie that makes him a near-witness to the event, and claims that he asks passers-by in the square, and they all said it was the fault of the assholes, not Fantine. That’s not exactly out of character, for he is, as I have noted, a near-constant liar. But, would JV really take the word of someone who is admittedly prejudiced against Javert, and publicly defy him? I doubt it. I’d feel a lot more comfortable about this if I really thought he had asked eyewitnesses.
Fantine abruptly changes her political opinions, and is like, “Love ya, mayor! Got to go!” “Sergeant, who said she could go?” Javert yells. Uh, the mayor. JV is like, yeah, that was me. I’m the mayor, you know. Javert, very seriously, reminds JV that he got spat on. JV forgives her. Javert hates it when JV does that. Javert claims that JV isn’t just a dude, he’s the local representation of the law, and he doesn’t have “the right to destroy justice.” JV goes letter-of-the-law on his ass, and orders “under articles nine and eleven of the criminal code” her release. Javert protests some more, so JV relieves his ass of duty. Now, how did a guy who can’t read learn so much about criminal law?
Javert has his heart broken into thirty-six equal sized pieces. (Thirty-six is a good number; it’s six squared.) He walks away with a very sad little walk. Fantine’s boobs, amazingly, haven’t popped out of her top. “You’re free to go,” JV says soulfully to her. She faints. Okay, does Uma Thurman have no nipples?
The movie's not that good, unfortunately. You only see the Thenardiers once, when VJ fetches Cosette from their inn. No Paris crime, no chance meeting of VJ and Thenardier, no Marius daddy issues, and the entire last portion of the novel is severely abridged.
I'm glad to hear that somebody else hearts the book!
When I saw you did Les Mis, I had to read it! OMG I hate that movie soooo much.
I should add though that Fantine does spit on Valjean in the novel; but the movie did do that very awkwardly, yes.
And I agree: what is up with Valjean being literate? How can a mayor be illiterate?? He learned that stuff in prison so he could do EVIL!
It always saddens me how the movie adaptations (and musical) rip off poor Petite Gervais. :(
I should add though that Fantine does spit on Valjean in the novel; but the movie did do that very awkwardly, yes.
I hope I knew that when I wrote the recap; I think I meant that Fantine's expository line ("You're the one that fired me!") was awkward.
I've never seen the musical; what did they do in regard to Petite Gervais? I mean, that episode is a little ... strange, in the book, but it is also pretty important.
The literacy thing might have paid off if JV had had to read something at a critical juncture. Like Javert is chasing him through the dark streets, and he comes to a fork in the road, and his successful escape depends on him being able to read the sign that says "BRIDGE OUT CERTAIN DEATH TO THE LEFT YOU DUMMY."
The musical basically entirely leaves out Petite Gervais; they have the Bishop alone redeem Valjean. I can understand the cut, but I feel for the kid.
And, oh man, that would have been spectacular. Might have even made me LIKE the movie. Normally I wouldn't say this because Valjean is one of the best characters evar and the Chuck Norris of France, but in this movie I hated him and really would have enjoyed seeing him plummet into the Seine.