Matthew Holland: 'Les Miserables,' 'Lincoln' offer pictures of hope

Matthew Holland

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 11:00 a.m. MST

Currently, two of the top-grossing films in the country are "Lincoln" and "Les Miserables," the latter based on what may be the most successful theatrical production of all time.

A drama and a musical set in different countries and decades, the differences here outweigh the similarities. But, what they do share in common is profound and, apparently, immensely popular.

Both movies depict people in inspiring fights against tyranny that differs mostly in form (that of the awful racial-slave system the American founders could not eradicate versus the infamous French cycle of deposing one dictator only to be controlled by another) rather than substance. Thus, the euphonic tune and stirring words of "Les Mis' " "Do You Hear the People Sing" seem as apt to summon American slaves and Unionists as French Revolutionaries — and, for that matter, freedom lovers everywhere — to put their lives on the line to secure conditions of liberty for themselves and their countrymen.

Will you join in our crusade?

Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the barricade

Is there a world you long to see? …

Then join in the fight

That will give you the right to be free!

More than a tribute to a patriotic defense of national liberties, as noble as such might be, both movies ascend to something even more sublime. Perhaps the greatest thrust of each show is an homage to men and women who suffered great human cruelty — the gross injustices of a heartless judicial system (Jean Valjean), the constant bombardment of self-righteous recriminations by friends, family and enemies alike (Lincoln), and the dagger-like wounds of unrequited love (Eponine) — yet still stepped forward in near miraculous fashion "with malice toward none" and actively blessed those that cursed them.

In doing so, these two movies take us somewhere truly transcendent. And, in response, we, as a nation, fill the theaters and cry and clap and come back for second showings.

As long as this is the case, as long as the chords of liberty and charity are intertwined with each other and strike the chambers of enough of our hearts with resonance and power, there remains a bright hope for this great country of ours, whatever our shortcomings and differences might be.

Matthew Holland is the president of Utah Valley University and a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.

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