To be or not to be…

I recently watched one of my favorite musical turned movies, Les Miserables, with my other favorite being The Phantom of the Opera.  Upon watching Les Miserables, I noticed there were two scenes very similar to that of Hamlet, which I happen to be reading as of this moment.  These two works both have the motifs of revenge and serious contemplation.  Hamlet is bent on revenge for his father’s death through killing Claudius, while the revenge in Les Miserables comes from how Javert is obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.  However, the scenes of serious contemplation really intrigue me.

There are two scenes in the beginning of the movie that are central to setting up how the audience views Jean Valjean. The first one is immediately after the police come to the church where Jean Valjean is staying and are about to arrest him for stealing but the priest clears his name.  Realizing how the priest saved him from going back to jail, he has a soliloquy where he contemplates what he is doing with his life and his character.  Now, it isn’t of the same subject matter of whether he should commit suicide or not, but this scene is important as it leads to the all important question of the movie in the next song.  The next more comparable scene is the scene where Jean Valjean has heard how an innocent man will be tried for being mistaken to be him, and he must make a decision: take action or don’t.  If he takes action he risks his life, but if he doesn’t he has the guilt of a man’s life over him.  He asks the question that will continue to echo through the play/movie: Who am I?

Toward’s the end of the movie, the scene I am about to discuss takes place, and note if you haven’t seen the movie/play I am warning you this is a spoiler.  Now, if you recall the end of the movie has the scene where Javert has failed to catch Jean Valjean ater he just watches him walk away from the sewer exit.  The next scene the audience finds Javert on top of a bridge walking on the edge.  He then continues to sing the song titled “Javert’s Suicide” where he decides what to do with his life after failing at his really own purpose for living, justice.  He believes he has failed  and contemplates whether to live or die.  This is very similar to Hamlet in the “To be or not to be..” soliloquy as he too contemplates suicide.  The only difference between the two is that Javert takes his own life and Hamlet instead takes a different action, deciding to carry out revenge.

-Carlos

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