The most recent film adaptation of Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, came out last week. It is a great work that largely follows the theatrical storyline. Though most are familiar with the musical, Les Mis was originally a 1200+ page novel. I read it for the first time this year. It is probably the best book, outside the Bible, that I've read. It's definitely an investment of time and effort (some parts seem needlessly long, but do contribute to the overall feel of the storyline), but worth it.
After spending 1200 pages, that cover decades of life, you become deep friends with this man, Jean Valjean. You watch him go from an unjustly imprisoned convict to being transformed by the grace of God to starting over. You watch him create an industry in a small French town and eventually, albeit reluctantly, become the incredibly popular mayor of that town. You watch him get wrongfully pursued, yet still maintain his character. You watch others attempt to use him, yet he continues to give himself for them. You watch him being misunderstood and mislabeled, yet he moves forward. You watch him set aside the agenda of his life, to graciously redeem the life agenda of those around him. He is a towering figure who was radically transformed by the grace of God and lived the life he did as a result.
Here's how it really ends:
“In the cemetery...is a deserted corner near an old wall, and here, beneath a big yew tree, surrounded by mosses and dandelions, there is a stone. It is black and green, no more exempt than other stones from the encroachment of time, lichen and bird-droppings. There is no path near it, and people are reluctant to go that way because the grass is long and they are sure to get their feet wet. In sunny weather lizards visit it, there is a stir of grasses all around it and birds sing in the tree. The stone is quite unadorned. It was carved strictly to serve its purpose, long enough and wide enough to cover a man. It bears no name.”
Read that again. After an incredible life of wrongful imprisonment, forgiveness, courage, risk, faith, selflessness, character, and sacrifice - he dies unknown and is buried in an unmarked burial plot (per his request). No hero's welcome. No triumphal entry. No monument. No singing. No flag waving. Not even a path because people are afraid of getting their feet wet. Think about that.
Given Hollywood's penchant for ironic, surprise endings, I hoped they would latch on to this. They didn't. I suppose that was because they were following the storyline of the play - or, maybe the real ending was a bit too real. Triumphal entries are so American; faithful, self-sacrificial anonymity isn't. But, that is exactly why the real ending is so good, and so much better.
The reality is, for most of us, there will be no monument, no parade and no flag waving. Maybe not even a path. The world tells us to live for such things. That's not a surprise. We all long for purpose and significance. But, Les Mis (and the Bible) warn us of finding it in those things. Our significance is not found in our triumphal entry, but in the One whose triumphal entry we await (Phil 3:20). In the meantime, our job is to faithfully love as we've been faithfully loved, in Christ; likely unknown by the world, yet fully known by him. (2 Cor 6:9) That's a better story - and ending.