In wake of the 2012 movie Les Misérables (which is an awesome, tear-jerker that I highly recommend), I thought I might write a bit about my favorite character: Javert. But before I go into that, I’d like to comment on some of the aspects of the movie that I really enjoyed.
From the start, I was already biased in favor of Russell Crowe’s character, and I thought that he did a very impressive job with the singing and playing the role. My favorite song in the movie was probably the exchange between Javert and Jean Valjean; something about the way that Russell Crowe sang “24601” in response to Hugh Jackman singing “You know nothing!” throughout was simply captivating. In the exchange, we hear the only real background information about Javert: that he was born in prison and that he was surrounded by criminals. When considering this in contrast with Javert’s character, it speaks volumes to the bitterness that propelled the force known as Javert to the surface. About a quarter of the way into the movie, I realized that all of the characters had a particular tune that was unique to them and was impressed with what it suggested: we each sing a different melody in life. There were, of course, recurring songs that were shared by characters, but they also related to the relationships between the characters that were singing them.
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, the rest of this post is not for you (unless you read the book, then feel free :)) If you have watched, feel free to keep reading! 🙂
Now onto my thoughts on Javert the character. Hated by most people (who have either read the book or watched the film) due to his relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean, Javert is actually, in my opinion, the tragic hero of the story. From the beginning, he is constantly in Jean Valjean’s face, making sure that Valjean doesn’t forget him at all. Even after Valjean becomes Father Madeleine (or Monsieur Le’Maire in the movie), Javert constantly makes appearances at critical moments, tirelessly hunting prisoner 24601. However, if viewers are to truly view the story from the eyes of their hero, Jean Valjean, they would realize that Valjean speaks the truth at many junctures of the movie: Javert is merely doing his duty to the utmost. Javert’s dogged tracking of prisoner Jean Valjean is the upholding of his own principles and the law, which he believes he embodies.
With the knowledge of Javert’s origins, it is incredible to see the man Javert as he is. From living with criminals and convicts, he became the essentially incorruptible manifestation of the law. The magnitude of change that is required shows the innate sense of justice that Javert had. Another interesting dynamic is provided in the song “Stars,” because though he and Valjean contrast so much, they both look to the heavens and God to justify their actions and aid them through travails. How often is it that Christians who all pray to the one God have disagreements in the basest of matters? Javert and Valjean illustrate this point in their confrontations, and it’s an interesting point for believers to note. Javert, in my eyes, symbolizes the man who struggles and strives with his own sins without much help from God, relying instead upon his own moral compass or human righteousness. How pitiable is it for a man to go through life, purging himself of his past and clinging – blindly, at that – to principles. It is truly a thing to be admired yet not desired. Yet how similar were we to Javert before we met God, attempting to do what was right in the eyes of ourselves and society, but not seeing the grace that God made readily available?
Javert is also the only constant character in the movie, depicting a man truly devoted to his own set of principles. Most all the characters in the movie either change for the better or worse depending on their individual circumstances, but Javert is the only character who doesn’t let his circumstances circumvent his own morality. When it does, the character of Javert still refuses to be corrupted and he ends up taking his own life.
On that note, I have a sneaking suspicion that Javert’s end is a major reason for my association with and sympathy for his character. If you know my story (see “This is My Story, This is My Song), then you know that I myself understand the thoughts surrounding the point before the end. For Javert to take his own life instead of accept Jean Valjean as a changed man goes to show the futility of Javert’s whole life and beliefs, and it shows him finally coming to terms with the fact that his whole life was basically a terrifying deception. Very few can imagine the pain of discovering that what you stood for your whole life was a falsehood, and the depth of pain and regret is clear from Javert’s actions.
I feel like there is so much of Javert that personifies our standing before God pre-salvation. For all of the “good people” in our lives who haven’t found God, how many of them do, in fact, do what is right in their own eyes and principles just as Javert did! As humans, we would like to think that we all have the capacity of magnanimity that Jean Valjean inherited in the beginning, but the truth is…for every Jean Valjean, there are many, many Javerts. Before we find God, we still have morals and cling to them, but after we discover God, our perception of life changes; Javert finally discovers this new life, but he was so unfortunately blinded by his own code that he didn’t even give himself a chance to taste the sweetness of a life supplied with grace. So although you might not like Javert at all even after he turns a new leaf and puts his award on Gavroche’s resting body (though I don’t recall that in the book), at least understand the under-appreciated tragedy that is his life. And for my believing friends who have seen the movie, just be so glad that you have been blessed with the alternate path; whereas Javert’s walk lead to his demise, we are capable of attaining the Jean Valjean life through our Savior and what He has done for us.