Friday, December 28, 2012

Is Javert a Pharisee?

I saw the big, bombastic movie last night, and came out feeling tainted. Have we ever had a mass market movie that so covertly pushes Catholic themes and Catholic morals? This isn't the Passion of the Christ, of course. Les Misirables does not wear religion on its sleeve. But underneath the sappy love story I saw the story of the Christian supersessionism.

Start with Jean Val Jean. In the movie, he wears a Christ-like beard and lifts a cart on his shoulders in the manner of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary  Judas sold his master for a few pieces of silver, and in this retelling a kindly bishop buys Val Jean's soul for a pair of silver candlesticks. Touched and changed by the generosity of the bishop, Val Jean goes into the world reborn.

After this conversion, Val Jean becomes a model of unconditional love. He tries to save low and broken Fantine only because she suffers. In the novel, he first appears to Cosset on Christmas Eve, and from that moment on sacrifices everything he has for her happiness. And at the conclusion of the movie, he even rises from the dead with the redeemed Marius on his back.

Javert, his pursuer, is a different sort of man. While Val Jean represents love, Javert cares only about the law. When Fantine is arrested, Javert knows the halacha - she must go to jail for striking a john - but Val Jean focuses on the surrounding details of her story and appeals for mercy. Val Jean looks at Fantine and sees her humanity. Javert only sees people as the sum of their sins and transgressions. His justice is blind. There is no room for love.

On the cross, Jesus said "it is finished" and later Christian books understood him to be speaking of Torah law. The idea developed that Jesus had fulfilled the law through his sacrifice, and that love, not law, was the new path to redemption.

Javert, with his blind devotion to the law, and his inability to reconcile law with love or mercy, is a New Testament caricature of a Pharisee. Here's Wikipdeia describing the Christian bible's view of them.
An important binary in the New Testament is the opposition between law and love. Accordingly, the New Testament, particularly the Synoptic Gospels, presents especially the leadership of the Pharisees as obsessed with man-made rules (especially concerning purity) whereas Jesus is more concerned with God’s love; the Pharisees scorn sinners whereas Jesus seeks them out. [DB: Fantine!] 
After Val Jean acts out the resurrection by climbing out of the mud and grime of the sewers, Javert kills himself. There are two meanings here. First, the Pharisee figure is imitating the suicide of Judas, the original Christ's own antagonist. Second, his demise, following the resurrection, represents the death of cold-hearted law and the triumph of Val Jeans redemptive love. Javert, literally, self destructs, because he can't reconcile law with love, while Val Jean goes forward into victory, his love having defeated the emptiness of the law.

Search for more information about Catholic morality tales

No comments: