Prison Fellowship's own Jenni Weatherly has an excellent piece at RELEVANT, explaining "Why We Really Love 'Les Mis.'" She writes: "Such storytelling fills an audience with more than empathy. It awakens real, visceral compassion. If the character is humanized, then it follows she is not demonized, and her story may well be true. It could belong to the homeless woman you saw walking downtown last weekend. That's the truth every one of us needs—the truth a strong story will use to punch us in our collective gut."
Over at Her.meneutics, Laura Ortberg Turner shows why complaints about female stereotypes in the movie are mistaken: "The women of Les Mis may not be feminist icons by modern-day standards. But they are faithful representations of the lives of lower-class women in early-19th-century France. Hugo writes these characters with admiration and sympathy for the unthinkable plights they endure. Fantine was a singular portrait of widespread problem: the selling of women out of poverty and into prostitution."
In case you didn't see it yet, my own review is here. And Eric Metaxas recommended the movie the other day . . . which brings up an important point.
After Eric mentioned the movie, we got a couple of comments reminding us of the movie's sexual content, which was exhaustively detailed by Focus on the Family's Plugged In. In fact, that Plugged In review seems to have gone viral; all over the Web lately, I'm encountering Christians who cite that review as a reason to stay away from the movie.
Now, as some of you know, I'm a longtime admirer of Focus. I respect and appreciate much of the work they do. I've even written for them before. But I've had my concerns for some time now about the approach that Plugged In takes. I understand that they're trying to help parents to be aware of film, TV, and music content, but the way they go about it -- teasing out every single little questionable element, and giving equal weight to the major ones and the almost invisible ones -- means that often, readers can't see the forest for the trees. Their approach makes it all too easy to get hung up on small things and miss the big picture.
That's demonstrated by the very fact that, on balance, the Plugged In review was actually more positive than negative, and yet many of their readers seem to have missed the positive altogether. I fear that's an attitude that the Plugged In approach has inculcated.
Yes, "Les Misérables" has sexual content (and some violence and bad language as well). That's why it's rated PG-13. Am I suggesting that you bring the whole family? Most definitely not. Am I advising you to ignore your own standards and conscience in these matters? Not at all. What I'm saying is that sometimes, movies with messy, ugly elements can still be good and valuable movies.
A movie isn't just about its content. Thinking that way is what has pushed such a wedge between faith and the arts in the first place. We have to pay attention to all aspects of a work: the way the story is told, the reasons it's told that way, the redemptive elements, and so much more. It's not necessarily an easy endeavor, but it's an important one and a worthwhile one. We can complain all we want to about the separation between Christians and the arts, but until we're willing to acknowledge that the arts are, and should be, more than just a vehicle for sending shiny happy messages, nothing is going to change on that front.
(And where did we get the idea that Christianity is all about shiny happy messages in the first place? Haven't any of us looked into the Bible lately?)
Among movies playing in theaters at this moment, "Les Misérables" offers probably the most powerful, most explicit picture of God's grace. Even if you feel your conscience is calling you to avoid it, let's try not to stand in the way of those who, when they go to see it, might come away with a clearer understanding of that grace than they've ever had before.