Posted January 1, 2013 by jimhigley
I was thinking it would be like roadkill.
Something you know you shouldn’t look at. But you do anyway. Which is followed by that horrible feeling in your gut that you should have followed your instinct and avoid it.
Yup, that’s pretty much how I’ve thought about Les Miserables for the last ten-plus years.
Let me explain.
I’m part of that tiny slice of the population who has never seen any version of Les Mis (but I do know that the general population refers to it as “Les Mis“). Nor did I know what the actually storyline was about.
And I’ve kept it that way intentionally for over ten years.
You see, Les Mis was my brother Kevin’s favorite musical. “Was” being the operative word in the prior sentence.
“Les Mis was by far my favorite musical,” Kevin said to me a few weeks before he died. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen it.”
What I remember most about that conversation was Kevin’s use of the word “was.” And at that moment, Les Mis joined the ranks of several other painful reminders of Kevin’s early-age death. Along with 35 mm cameras. Miatas. The entire month of January. And the word “Columbine.”
And over the years, I’ve turned down a number of opportunities to see the stage show of Les Mis. It wasn’t worth the pain of pulling that scab off.
But ten-plus years have passed since Kevin passed. And the truth is I’m a big Anne Hathaway fan. That’s a love affair that started with The Princess Diaries and has grown ever since. So, with all the hype the new screen version of Les Mis has received, I’ve found myself getting the gumption to go.
And go I did. The day after Christmas. With the oldest two of my three kids. They were safe companions. And they knew all too well about my trepidations.
Surprisingly, for two hours and twenty-two minutes I allowed myself to be fully submerged in pure, magical entertainment. Hollywood at its finest. Spectacular cinematography and breathtaking sets. Acting excellence. And real-time singing to boot. I even dealt with the blow of (spoiler alert) Anne Hathaway’s character, Fantine, dying off way too early. What the heck?
But aside from that, it was two hours and twenty-two minutes of bliss. And, I’m proud to report total composure on my part.
The only problem was the entire movie was two hours and thirty-seven minutes. That left 15 minutes at the end for me to go over the emotional deep end.
Damn that closing scene.
The main character played by Hugh Jackman, Jean Valjean, is near death while Hathaway’s character, Fantine, comes back in spirit. Then Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette, who he raised for Fantine, joins the scene. And yes, all I could think about was my brother. And his final days.
I got all verklempt.
Over-the-top verklempt. Were there a national holiday for verklemptness, I would have been the poster boy.
And there’s nothing worse than getting verklempt when trying to be quiet in a movie theater while hundreds of other patrons are trying to enjoy the show. So I did what seemed logical. I covered my mouth, hoping that my liver and neighboring organs wouldn’t erupt through every orifice in my head.
I turned my head away from my oldest son, who was sitting next to me until I could gain some level of composure. Which I eventually did. For a few seconds. But then I began to focus on the lyrics of the finale.
Then I heard those words.
And remember, the truth that once was spoken. To love another person is to see the face of God.
And the verklepting made a curtain call. Which lasted right through the scrolling of the movie credits.
Walking to the car, the kids were sharing their impressions of the movie with each other.
“Did you notice there were no cut-aways when Anne Hathaway sang that one song?”
“I liked the young guy but his throat quivered when he sang. Creepy.”
“That little boy was so cute.”
“The young Cosette was way better than the older Cosette.”
Babbling words. And I was grateful that the two of them were talking because it masked my inability to speak.
Then my oldest son made an endearing reference to my breakdown in the final scene. Busted. I thought I had covered pretty well. But he understands me. As does his sister.
What they didn’t understand, I’m sure, was what really sent me over the top had everything to do with them. And their little brother.
To love another person is to see the face of God.
When I heard those words, I realized – at least for me – this was a story about one man’s unwavering commitment to being a father. It’s about making a promise to raise a child and fulfilling that promise no matter what challenges and obstacles knock on life’s door.
To love another person is to see the face of God.
Hearing those words made me realize that – while I’m certainly no Jean Valjean – I’ve seen the face of God each and every day since I made a promise many years ago to be the father my kids needed me to be. Through challenges. Struggles. Valleys. I’ve come to know the unmatchable gift of a father-child relationship bound by a promise.
So it wasn’t roadkill after all.
It actually brought me a welcome epilogue to the story of my brother. I now understand why this was his favorite musical. And I’m peaceful knowing he had the wisdom of this story in his heart.
And for me, beyond the Hollywood hoopla, the A-list stars, and the blockbuster production, Les Mis has now become my favorite musical, too. Because it reminds me of the most important gift in my life.
And that is something I’ll verklempt over until my dying day.