The Tigers Come at Night, Their Voices Soft as Thunder

Being someone who usually rejects musicals for their sentimentality and superficial manufactured emotions, I was genuinely surprised by Tom Hooper`s version of Les Miserables.  Having studied acting for years, I learned, in order to act, you must find the truth in the character and bring it out in each one in the audience.  A test of this truth for audiences to come face to face with that emotion and discover passion De Profundis within you as well.  Usually analysing emotions, I couldn`t ignore the shivers that came to me frequently and all over, as if a ghost had entered.  Having such a visceral reaction to this film was completely unexpected. I sat there a little taken aback at my own reactions.  Yes, Victor Hugo was writing in the 19th Century and we have to keep in mind that this was at the height of Romanticism.  It was first published in 1862.  This was a movement that validated strong emotion and yes, it values strong intuition over enlightenment rationalism. However, we must remember that it emerged from the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789–1799.  This had, at it`s core a strong left-wing radical politics.  The Paris rebellion of 1848 echoing that revolution is central to Hugo`s novel.  So this emotion should not be dismissed at mere sentimentality.  It is something powerful that is in all of us, that drives us to stand for our rights against injustice and to get to the core of our values.  This is essentially what Victor Hugo is evoking in all of us through his words.  Humanity`s fall from grace, redemption and salvation.  The story that leads us through these phases, right into the despair that we will feel when left alone wandering through the darkness.  These are intense, raw and real emotions.  Having read the New Yorker review, I had been put off by the hype, but instead I was greeted with a genuine evocation of very real emotion from the actors, from the heart of Victor Hugo`s incredibly powerful words.  Perhaps the New Yorker review is so skeptical of the inner most recesses of the soul, because late capitalist society is so distrustful of these authentic sentiments.  Instead favour is given to mocking cultural memes and often only superficial feelings are induced. 
    Tom Hooper had nine weeks of rehearsals, like in the theatre and then shot everything live, so that each live take was like an opening night.  I couldn´t help comparing this to Brecht`s episodic theatre, that through montage brings about the dialectical meaning.  The setting kept reminding me aptly of a Delacroix painting.  The faded look was both stylised and very real, again another Brechtian device to shake and challenge the audience to counterpoise both elements simultaneously. It was if Victor Hugo was sat with us in the audience, like a ghost and saying, "this is very real folks, it´s happening all around us, pay attention" and at the same time saying "there is a story to tell, here, listen and know it for yourselves"     The characters are rounded, so that I found myself shifting in my perception, thinking that at times Jean Valjean was as pure as a saint, but then at others selfish and again kind and humble.  Similarly Javert, seemed not a two dimensional villain, but rather someone desperately struggling with his own alignment with a law that to him seemed the up-most ethical and moral compass he could follow.  When that had at once been destroyed with a higher moral compass that was spiritually evoked, he could not understand this rationally and found no other alternative and no way forward for him, to live his life.  
    Fantine, unlike the New Yorker reviewer decides, is not a complete victim.  She sacrifices, however she has a strength that we find within the profundity that arises out of her through her signature song I dreamed a dream.  Having heard this song hundreds of times at school. As girlfriends, we sung this time and again, dancing around with joy, not pain. Each time challenging each other to sing more powerful than the other, finding our own strength for the first time within.  It was then that is hit me, as the shiver that sent a shudder right through to my core, that this song, is not a victim song.  It is not about Fantine giving up, or bemoaning her fate. No, it is about truth. It is about love and the disillusionment that comes with it, yet how we rise again. Having been hurt. Having had your heart broken to the nucleus part of your being.  Having known such pain.  She is at the place where you despair at how you could have been so wrong in your fearlessness, your purity and innocence, "the tigers come at night, their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they tear your dream to shame" it is through singing and feeling this pain, through lifting her veils of illusion "and I dream he`ll come to me, that we will live the years together, but there are dreams that cannot be and there are storms we cannot weather".  The dream that she dreamt will not live, but another that is inside her lives, her own strength, love and power that can never be taken away from her.  It is never explicitly said, but you can feel this.  From a woman who has clearly known innocent love and known the pain of having thought she lost it, but how can we lose something that is always inside us.  The vigor that is evoked through the words balance both the shattered illusions and the might of her own love for herself being felt for the first time.
   Cosette instead of being just a pure beacon of hope, is a young woman who doesn´t seem to be afraid of searching into her father´s darkness to know the truth.  She is somewhat bored of her protected existence. Instead she longs for her father to treat her as woman and tell her his past as an equal in the complexities of life.  Perhaps it is from her early memories of being surrounded by poverty, mercenary and self-indulgence, that she feels less fear than those who would otherwise know no other than privilege. Meeting Marius, indeed induces a feeling of hope in us at fresh untainted love, but this is counterpoised by Eponine`s unrequited love for Marius. Marius: "I saw through a world that is new that is free" Eponine: "every word he says is like a dagger in me".  Eponine sings her pain counterbalanced inbetween Cosette and Marius` duet that is an expression, sincerely of their love.  As an audience, we cannot fall into their lovers grace and are instead given Eponine`s isolation, yet, the poignant splendor in her solitude. A darkness tainted with silver.
    Thénardier and his wife, a wickedly funny couple bent on greed, getting any pound or penny they can. Provide jester-like elements that arrive at often the most serious of moments.  As Jean Valjean is carrying a nearly dead Marius through the Parisian gutter, Thénardier appears beside them, in almost a absurd interjection.  It is this court jester that shakes away any sentimentality or overly getting lost in the pathos and instead gives the audience that distance that Brecht so advocated in his theatre, to actually see the situation for what it is.  A desperate last act of hope and strength, wading through the sewers and even then, faced with petty greed and false justice symbolised through Javert, an apologist for the aristocracy and yet having to continue past them when no hope seems to be in sight.  
     With futile conditions increasingly around us, Victor Hugo`s novel is as relevant now as it was then, if not more so.  There is hope in the most desperate conditions.  This musical that popularises the novel is a testament to this, when so often in modern times, the easiest thing to do may be to give up on hope and go on the darker path to greed and protecting oneself above others.  Revolution can be defeated, but the love that is all it`s complex forms can never really be and it is that, that will bring about the strongest and most resilient revolution of them all.