‘Les Miserables’ offers a lesson for our time

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‘Les Miserables’ offers a lesson for our time


On Wednesday, the day of the presidential election, I voted in the morning, saw a movie in the afternoon and watched television coverage of the vote-counting. It must have been a routine for many people. A number of movies were released in time for the election, and my choice was “Les Miserables.” The adaptation of the classic novel was released in Korea for the first time, and thanks to favorable reviews, the theater was nearly sold out.

The 1862 French historical novel by Victor Hugo has been the subject of more than 20 movies. In the 27 years since its premiere in London’s West End in 1985, the musical adaptation of “Les Miserables” has been performed more than 43,000 times in 21 languages in 42 countries. It has been seen by more than 55 million people around the world.

The Korean versions of the musical and play are in theaters now. Last month, Minumsa Books published the complete translation of “Les Miserables” in five volumes as a part of its World Literature Series. The new edition is long and expensive, at 61,000 won ($57) for the set, but 35,000 copies were sold in three weeks.

I was deeply moved when I first saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway. The recently released film version is based on the musical, and it highlights the story’s cinematic values while recording the songs live to deliver more realistic emotions and voices.

Jean Valjean was imprisoned for 19 years for having stolen a loaf of bread. Bishop Myriel’s love, benevolence and forgiveness transformed Valjean into a saint who is working to save the people. In the poverty-ridden, oppressive French society of the early 19th century, Hugo advocates the power of love and mercy as a dynamic with the power to change the world. The wealthy “haves” must show humanity and compassion for the less fortunate “have-nots,” he said. The chorus of voices from 150 years ago that demanded a lessening of the gap between the rich and poor and a resolution of inequality remain relevant today.

The young intellectuals and general populace in 19th-century France put up barricades and took up arms. Today, people express their voices through their votes.

Park Geun-hye has been elected president, and she has promised to open an age of happiness by expanding the middle class to include as much as 70 percent of the entire population. She pledged that no one will be excluded from sharing in the fruits of Korea’s dynamic economic development, claiming that it will be the equitable distribution of our prosperity that brings true national integration and economic democratization. The calling of our time is to embrace and live together with “the miserable.” I would strongly recommend Park watch the film “Les Miserables.”

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok
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