Les Misérables is a book written by Victor Hugo that is set between the years 1815 and 1832. Since the release of the book in 1862, it has been adapted into a broadway musical and a movie. But I’m not here to talk about the history of Les Mis and why you should definitely see/read it (which you should). No, I’m here to talk about one (of the many) elements of crime and dishonesty in the movie adaptation, which just so happens to be in the first few minutes as to not spoil too much of the story.
(If you would like to follow along with the music, the song is called “Look Down”.)
First off, some background. The first scene is of prisoners serving their time under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert, the main antagonist in Jean Valjean’s story. Keep in mind that this whole first scene is in song, like most of the movie. When the prisoners are all leaving, presumably to their barracks or for food, Javert calls for Valjean and they sing back and forth. This song is very important to the story, as it describes why Valjean is in the prison, the reason being for stealing a loaf of bread and breaking a window pane to feed his nephew. This is the first instance of crime in the story. Valjean served 19 years for this crime, five for stealing the bread and the rest for running from the authorities. At the end of the song, he goes on parole but because he served, he must carry around a yellow ticket-of-leave with him, which makes finding a job or place to stay impossible. Now to you this may seem like a bit much for stealing a loaf of bread but in 1800’s France, in a time of great depression, this was a heinous act. But we have to ask ourselves, “was this crime justified?” In my humble opinion I would say yes because if you were put in the same position, either steal bread or let your sister and her son die, I’m willing to bet that you would do the same. The running from the authorities is not as justified though. But, to accurately form an opinion on the matter, I would need to know what exactly caused him to run. Did he not want to be captured? Or was there a bigger reason as to why he ran for such a time that would warrant fourteen extra years to his sentence?
I hope this post has inspired you to think about crimes in a different way, that way being from the perspective of the person committing the crime. If you would like to talk more about Les Misérables or crime in general, feel free to comment and I will get back to you as quickly as I can.