Friday, January 4, 2013

That Uncomfortable Moment When You Realize You're Javert

FAIR WARNING: If you are one of the two people on the planet who has *never* seen or heard about the plot of Les Miserables (movies, musical or novel), then this post will contain spoilers. Go see/read one of the multiple options and then come back. Or be spoiled a little. Your choice.

ETA: Susanne linked me to a very good article about the two viewpoints of Christianity that are presented in Les Miserables here.

Also, TW for the movie/musical/book: death, prostitution, violence and suicide.

I've see the new Les Miserables twice, fyi. It's fabulous and you should all go see it if and when you get the chance. It's about 2 1/2 hours long, true, but it's worth carving that time out of your schedule, trust me.

Never before have I been in a movie and heard the entire theater trying to cry quietly.

I really want to buy the 'highlights' soundtrack so I can play it on endless repeat in my car, but so far I've resisted. One of my goals this year is to be more fiscally responsible. *sets face in responsible, adult lines* We'll see how long that lasts. But my mind has been replaying bits and pieces of the music that I can remember all week. And one of the songs that sticks out is The Confrontation, which is an encounter between Valjean and Javert at Fantine's death bed.

Lyrics from here:

Valjean, at last,
We see each other plain
`M'sieur le Mayor,'
You'll wear a different chain!

Before you say another word, Javert
Before you chain me up like a slave again
Listen to me! There is something I must do.
This woman leaves behind a suffering child.
There is none but me who can intercede,
In Mercy's name, three days are all I need.
Then I'll return, I pledge my word.
Then I'll return...

You must think me mad!
I've hunted you across the years
A man like you can never change
A man such as you.

[VALJEAN (in counterpoint)]
Believe of me what you will
There is a duty that I'm sworn to do
You know nothing of my life
All I did was steal some bread
You know nothing of the world
You would sooner see me dead
But not before I see this justice
I am warning you Javert
I'm a stronger man by far
There is power in me yet
My race is not yet run
I am warning you Javert
There is nothing I won't dare
If I have to kill you here
I'll do what must be done!

[JAVERT (in counterpoint)]
Men like me can never change
Men like you can never change
My duty's to the law - you have no
Come with me 24601
Now the wheel has turned around
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way
You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter too!

[Valjean breaks a chair and threatens Javert with the broken piece.
Turns to Fantine]

[to Fantine] And this I swear to you tonight

[to Valjean] There is no place for you to hide

Your child will live within my care

Wherever you may hide away

And I will raise her to the light.

I swear to you, I will be there!

[They fight, Javert is knocked out. Valjean escapes]

And also Javert's Soliloquy from near the end:

Who is this man?
What sort of devil is he?
To have me caught in a trap
And choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last
To put a seal on my fate,
Wipe out the past,
And wash me clean off the slate.
All it would take was a flick of his knife.
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!
Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief
Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I'll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

How can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man that I have hunted
He gave me my life. He gave me freedom.

I should have perished by his hand
It was his right.
I was my right to die as well.
Instead I live -- but live in hell.

And my thoughts fly apart.
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?

And must I now begin to doubt,
Who never doubted all those years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles.
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That, granting me my life today,
This man has killed me even so?

I am reaching but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I'll escape now from that world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on...

Here's the thing about Javert: he's the 'villain' as much as there is one, but he's *not* a villain. He's not a bad guy. He just sees the world in very, extremely black and white terms. Valjean stole once, he was condemned as a criminal and that's that. He will never be able to change. Nothing good can come from such bad soil. Which, as we know, is not true. Valjean does change and does become a good man. Javert can't see that though, not until the end and then it shatters his world.

And let me just digress for a second to mention how both soliloquies, Valjean's near the beginning and Javert's near the end are done to the same tune because they're both have the same sort of reality changing realization that the way they live, the way the think the world works is not the only way. But Valjean rises from his despair, from his darkest point and makes himself into the good man that he could always have been and Javert...well. He doesn't rise.

Wait, wait, here: Here's Valjean's soliloquy:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there's another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!

One word from him and I'd be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I'll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

[He tears up his yellow ticket-of-leave]
[Constables leave. The bishop addresses Valjean]

But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!

Yeah. So. *leaves that there*

Good god people, SEE THIS MOVIE!!!

Wolverine commands you.

Where was I?

Right. At the end of my speech class (which I got an A in, by the way), we had to do group projects. Let me digress, again, for a second and say that I HATE GROUP PROJECTS! There's always at least one person who cannot, will not, get their shit together and do their work. I'd rather have to do a big project all by myself than work with a group, no lie.

So. One of the other groups did a speech about how we should have mandatory AA and NA in prisons, so that people won't re-offend (or have less of a chance of re-offending) than they do now when their addictions are left untreated. There's always (in this class) a question and answer time after speeches, so that people can get any opinions out or ask for clarification or whatever. And I argued with the people in the group about the premise of their speech because I don't believe that their idea would do any good.

Do AA and NA help? I'm sure they do. I've heard plenty of recovery stories and I have no doubt that if the person is willing to participate and deal with their problem that these programs do a lot of good. But the people have to be ready, in themselves, to embrace the program. Forcing them into it is, to my mind, like my Christian school forcing me into Bible study classes. I sat there and ripped the lessons apart and got nothing from the class. It wasn't until I was ready that I got anything out of learning about the Bible.

Sounds reasonable, right? You can disagree with me (they did, trust me), but it's not an unreasonable position to take, I think. But what I didn't recognize until just recently, while listening to the Confrontation over and over in my head, is that part of why I dismissed their idea so out of hand was that I don't believe addicts can ever change. And I can sit here and tell you why, that it's left over scarring from my childhood and my step-father and the many times that he said he would change, that he was better and he never was, but that's not the point. The point is, I'm fucking Javert here. (And not in the good way!)

I'm just going to leave this here for you. Enjoy.
I'm not willing to give these people, who are not my step-father, a chance. In spite of evidence that they can and have changed the way they live their lives.

I always had trouble with the 'forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' part of the Lord's Prayer too. I'm a vengeful person apparently.

And I don't like that about myself.


  1. Hi thanks for sharing interesting read by the way
    Do you happen to know what The Ith-khir is? Come see..

    Take Care

  2. So because your stepfather did something that really really really hurt you and your family, you hold addictions against people forever? You don't think they are curable and will *always* have this addiction even if they outwardly seem to be over it? Like if I had an addiction to chocolate bars for years and years, and finally stopped eating them, you believe my addiction is still there, I'm just not acting on it? I'm just trying to make sure I understand you clearly.

    Why do you have a problem with forgiveness? I remember the story in the NT where the lady washes Jesus' feet and he tells the Pharisee that whoever has been forgiven more, loves more. Maybe we think we've been basically good so we don't NEED God or anyone else to forgive us. Maybe - if we believe in God at all - we think we are good enough that when our good and bad deeds are weighed, we won't need forgiveness to get into God's kingdom.

    Granted, I'm speaking of this from a Christian view moreso which I understand you've rejected so I'm curious what YOU think.

    Very interesting post!

    1. Something like that? My issue is really specific to alcohol and drugs, to be honest. It's one of those knowing vs. feeling things, which can be hard to explain. I *know*, in my head, that not every one is my step-father. I *know* that people who become addicted are not 'weaker' morally or in personality than anyone else, necessarily. I *know* that they can change, that people can turn their lives around. But I *feel* that their addictions are a sign of moral/personal weakness and I'll never be able to trust them or stop watching them for other signs of the weakness. Does that make any more sense?

      The forgiveness thing: I didn't really explain what I meant there, sorry. I don't have a problem with the *concept* of forgiveness. I fully admit and embrace the fact that I've done and continue to do things that require forgiveness from other people and from God. My issue with the Lord's Prayer was/is the half of it that's on us. 'Forgive us our trespasses as *we forgive those who trespass against us*'. I have trouble forgiving some things, so how can I expect God to forgive me my sins if I can't forgive the sins against myself? That's what I meant. It's not a failure of concept, it's a failure of execution.

    2. PS: I don't think that I've rejected Christianity, really. I've just had to take a step back and admit that some of it doesn't make sense to me. And that could entirely be, again, the way I think about things and what I've been exposed to/exposed myself to.

    3. Thanks for explaining. That makes more sense.

      I understand what you mean about thinking that person has a moral weakness so we continue to look for them. Maybe sayings such as a leopard not changing his spots and once a cheater always a cheater makes us think this way. (Or those sayings reflect what we as a society believe!) I wonder if much of it is our difficulty in trusting people when they've hurt us -- even if they've asked for forgiveness.

      I'd like to think "God" or somehow we can overcome these weaknesses and make something of ourselves. That we truly are redeemable and our one flaw (e.g., past drug addiction) doesn't define us for the rest of our lives. But maybe this is too much to ask, and we truly ARE forever weak, forever playing catch up to those morally strong people.

      Yes, that clause in the Lord's Prayer, no doubt, IS troubling to many folks. It's tough being under conditional forgiveness.I wonder how many people gloss over that or dismiss it outright because they find it too hard to do.

      You've given me lots to think about this morning - enjoyed it! Thanks!

    4. maybe this is too much to ask, and we truly ARE forever weak, forever playing catch up to those morally strong people.

      But here's the thing: I don't think that anyone is 'morally strong'. We all have weaknesses. Some of them are just less obvious, less life-destroying than others. And I can forgive those flaws, even when they hurt me. But I can't forgive or, I guess, get over, the alcohol/drug addiction thing.

      I wonder how many people gloss over that or dismiss it outright because they find it too hard to do.

      Or because they never really learned or thought about what that line meant. I know I didn't really understand what I was saying until I was going through RCIA. That's when they taught us the Lord's Prayer (again for most of us) and went over the meanings of it line by line.

      I have to wonder if, in some Protestant circles, it get's dismissed because of the belief in Jesus' death conferring unconditional forgiveness. The two concepts could be seen to clash if you don't understand them very well.


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