Jean Valjean and Jesus: Les Mis and Turning the Other Cheek
I finally saw "Les Miserables" about a week ago. It's amazing. Truly worth all the praise and buzz it generated when it premiered and throughout the award season. Anne Hathaway in particular was as good as advertised in her "just go ahead and put my name on the statue" scene with "I Dreamed a Dream". But what I've been thinking about ever since I watched it, is Valjean's story arc and how it mirrors Christ's instruction to "turn the other cheek".When we meet Valjean, he's a prisoner enslaved to the French government for stealing bread to feed his niece, then locked away longer for escape attempts. His hatred for the guards and government that hold him is palpable and completely earned. It's a hatred that would ruin a man, and burn down whole countries around him. It's a beginning fit for "The Count of Monte Cristo" and when Valjean is released and then finds himself in a place of authority later, one imagines this is precisely where the story might go.
But Jean Valjean was exposed to something other than disgust and distrust when he was released into France as a parolee. He was welcomed into the home of the Bishop of Digne. Valjean eats his food, accepts his invitation to stay and then pays back the Bishop by stealing as much silver as he can carry and fleeing into the night. When he is caught and returned to face the Bishop (and a return to prison at least) he's instead granted reprieve. The Bishop tells the officers that the silver was a gift and even gives Valjean more.
That one act of kindness, of mercy and generosity is enough to turn Valjean's heart full of hatred to one of love and mercy. He vows to live an honest life and help others.
I don't want to ruin the story for those that haven't seen the play, book or film, but I do want to say this:
Valjean has his opportunities for vengeance at multiple moments in the film. He could have punished those that held him chains for so long and set himself free at the same time. But kindness is contagious in its own way. Grace has a way of growing, and in the end Valjean's forgiveness his refusal to judge or condemn was more revolutionary and powerful than his hatred could have been.
Sounds like this other Guy I read about one time. Gave Himself up to His enemies, conquered the world and death itself by doing it.