Les Mis Reconsidered: A Plea for Total Purity

Forenote: Dear friends, please know that I am not rebuking anyone merely for thinking that this movie is overall very good. I beg you to read all that follows with prayer and an open heart. My thanks to you all.

I am finding myself saddened that some good Catholics today are defending the entirety, without any qualification, of the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables. I hope by reading what follows you will understand why this is so.

I have not seen, nor will I see this movie in theaters, so my comments here are based off of what I have read about the movie.Mother Most Pure

My first pain is this: There is no such thing as fully fictional live-action movie. Those actors and actresses are real people, real children of God. When their dignity is violated, Our Lord weeps and is crucified anew. It is no use saying, of some scene in which this occurs, “it’s fine because it was necessary to develop the story, which has a good lesson” or whatever other justification; they really had to do what you’re seeing on the screen. We must never tolerate them being used as means instead of ends- even if they themselves insist they have no problem with it.  It could not possibly matter less if there is a director somewhere out there who is capable of converting the entire world to Christ with one movie if he can only just get two actors to commit adultery with each other and record it for one of the scenes; it cannot be done. Period.  It does not matter if the story is great, and the overall message is a powerful force for good. You can never do evil that good may come of it.

Some say “even Scripture depicts scenes of grave depravity, like this movie does.” But Scripture is written words; it is not using people as objects, as a movie like Les Mis uses actors and actresses as objects. Further, and this is what is truly causing me to agonize, as it affects all the millions who go to see this movie: when sexual depravity like that is graphically displayed, it taints even the viewer. We fail to recognize this because today we have lost the sense of guarding the eyes, as the Psalms direct. “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes...” – Ps 101:3. Now God is merciful and often permits what we did not consent to setting before us pass quickly from our memory and not do us great harm. But to willingly watch those scenes, to choose not to avert the eyes, to plan to see the movie (and those scenes) again, to recommend this movie to others without warning, and to specifically defend the objectionable scenes in this movie, can only ultimately result in the serious decay of the soul, resolvable only by repentance.

To willingly hold that sin before one’s eyes is to participate in it – the lover of pornography is little different from the adulterer. Some respond “but I did not like those scenes per se, as the pornography viewer does, I agree with their existence and like them insofar as they contributed to an excellent story.” But the moral object under consideration is precisely the same as with the pornography viewer, and a human act with an evil object is never good, no matter the intention. Beware, rationalizations do not mitigate culpability; they increase it. Remember that Our Lord had much more of an affinity for the prostitutes than the Pharisees.  Further, to indulge in those scenes for the sake of enjoying the overall story is no different than delightfully drinking well flavored poison for the taste; it happens often to children with Flintstone’s vitamins, but adults are supposed to know better.

God can and will bring good out of those scenes; He brings good out of everything. But when, in His omnipotence and inscrutable wisdom, He chooses to permit an evil that a good may come, He is not asking for our help in that task. Christ put it plainly: “Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh” – Matthew 18:7

Note: My words here are not for those who saw the movie, thought it was great overall, but took issue with those scenes (that can be a valid stance on Les Mis), even though I do think they should have been more prudent and waited for it to come out on DVD so they could turn it off before those scenes came before their eyes. I do plan to see it, but only with someone who has seen it already and is sure he can tell me exactly when to turn it off so I do not risk imprinting such uncleanness on my soul – the windows to which are the eyes. Rather, my words are for those Catholics who choose to serve as an accessory to the sin of those scenes — really choosing to consent to, praise, and defend them specifically.

Edit: Again, I have not seen the movie, but by “those scenes,” I am referring to  the scene in Fantine’s chamber and perhaps also the Santa scene

Our Lord Crowned

Update 2/22/2013: I would like to provide two excerpts from authoritative Magisterial sources that I pray will convince any Catholic who might be tempted to defend the existence of those scenes:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraph 2354: “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties… It is a grave offense.” As you can see, the definition of pornography, provided by the Church, does not require that the act in question be portrayed in a positive light, glorified, encouraged, etc. It consists in (i.e. intent is irrelevant) merely being removed from the intimacy of partners and displayed to a third party. Further, it does not matter if the act is occurring in reality: its simulation (as I assume was the case in the filming of Les Mis) suffices for this unequivocal condemnation by the Church.

Humanae Vitae: “… every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization… It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture”  Art has no right, even when it does explore the darker aspects of humanity, to display obscenity, as those scenes in Les Mis do.

21 thoughts on “Les Mis Reconsidered: A Plea for Total Purity”

  1. when you compare modern entertainment with the relevant writings of the early church fathers on this topic it is amazing how compromised we are – I fell into this trap even though I thought I was somewhat holy – but I was totally deluded.

    One way to guage entertainment is to imagine if Peter Paul or Mary would have nipped down to Jerusalem to see a Roman play – they would never have. Could you imagine going to hear Peter and Paul preaching then following them to see them going into a Roman drama and having a couple of pints on the way – we would be amazed yet this is the kind of thing I did – if there was a little good in it I assumed it was OK since other people were going to much worse things.

  2. I would like to share this comment from Dawn Eden in response to my leaving a link to this post on her blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/feastofeden/2013/01/message-to-matt-mcguiness-sexual-perversion-is-no-laughing-matter/

    “Daniel, thanks for your comment and for the thoughtful blog post you linked. I just saw “Les Miserables” yesterday and looked away during “Master of the House” on the advice of a friend. Then I went home and found two very different commentaries online. One from Deacon Greg Kendra raves about the director’s artistry in the way he staged the “fornicating Father Christmas.” I found it appalling enough that anyone, particularly a deacon of the Church (whose work I normally appreciate), would celebrate such a scene, particularly given Pope Paul VI’s words in Humanae Vitae, section 22:

    “We take this opportunity to address those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society. We would call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.

    “Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture (25) or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.”

    Then I read Patrick Craine’s piece, in which he not only describes the Santa scene but shows how it contradicts the movie’s otherwise beautiful (and deeply Catholic) message. It’s a great article, and I recommend reading it in its entirety: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/tom-hoopers-les-miserables-a-tarnished-gem .”

    1. In all honesty, i would say that the principle behind the Santa scene (showing, in short, how even the people representing the most pure were corrupted) was good. I will agree most certainly that it was too explicit, and should have been done a lot differently. The article was off on one point: it stated that the Thenadiers ran a brothel. The movie just had them having a prostitute there; it was basically an inn.

      I think Master of the House boils down in part, however flawed it is, to the musical’s way of having all the songs being “this is how I’m feeling.” The Thenadiers are the only actually evil characters; Master of the house, while it does lend itself to glorifying evil, was meant to show the scavenging and cheating nature of the Thenadiers. Throwing the Santa bit into the song was more clashing (and yes, overly explicit) than anything. The corruption of even the just that it might have well portrayed was good and bad.

      Okay, my aimless rambling in short: the scene had a good, and sobering concept, but was executed somewhat badly. I Definitely agree wholeheartedly with Craine’s last paragraph;

      “Still, none of us are surprised that it’s there. Whether or not such a scene ruins the film for us, I think we all ought to at least marvel that Hollywood was able to produce so profoundly Christian a film. Though the gem is tarnished, the Gospel still shines through.”

  3. No, I am not one to say that it is ok because other avenues are worse, nor defending this in its entirity. You make valid points about the nature of “show business” in that any actor or actress involved in scenes that are too graphic are quite vulnerable. I would imagine that any actor/actess with strong moral charachter would find it hard to participate in a lot of shows through the LANGUAGE that is part of the script, if nothing else! A good case in point is the movie “Titanic”. When it is analyzed, the behaviour of the young girl on the ship meeting someone she does not know but is infatuated with and then having everyone totally glorify the love story – it is immoral to say the very least. Nor am I saying “if you don’t like something don’t see it/do it/watch it.” But I would also challenge you to watch just about any t.v. show these days, or movie either for that matter, and not find something really amiss. Even “Two and a Half Men” is truly ugly and not funny, and is on during early evening hours. .It IS sad and shows just how much the bar has slipped in our “modern” society. I admire you for taking a stand. I was just so overwhelmed by the redemption/justice/mercy/war and peace aspects of Les Miz! I find it so moral and teachable, showing the contrast between immoral and dispicable behaviour and virtuos lives, it was this aspect that I love and would watch again.

  4. Dear Friends,

    I just made some small revisions to the post that serve to clarify my position. Please re-read if you took issue with my stance at first. May God bless you all, and be assured of my prayers.

  5. First, you have not seen the movie. Second, you will see it with someone who has who can tell you when to turn offensive parts off (figuring they can sin, but you won’t?). It is hard to give credibility to someone who has not seen the movie. This movie shows Jesus Christ alive. In the real world. Transforming hardened hearts, and giving hope to us all. The scenes you depict are FAR less graphic than scenes in a LARGE number of television programs (Law and Order, etc.) and made for t.v. movies! You get the message, yes, that depravity is going on. But abject nudity or scenes showing things really happening are not in this movie. Me thinks you are protesting too much. If you are truly agonizing over this movie – stop thinking about it and by all means do not ever watch it. There are thousands of movies I have never seen and never will, and my life is not changed for the good or bad because of it. Go attend a movie you do like, that appeals to you, that entertains you and/or teaches you something and leave this alone. Stop laying a guilt trip on those who have seen it and then make them think – gee, am I totally ammoral that I did not feel this way? No. I am a realist and appreciate the entire history and magnitude of this production. Peace to you my friend. God is using this for good, we can trust that.

    1. I cannot help but ask one more question, D. Rowe – are you among those who rebuke others for taking stands against evil, saying, for example “if you are against gay marriage, then be quiet and don’t get one.”? That is what your admonishment to me sounds like.

  6. Excellent point, Dan! So much that proceedeth from the mouth of Hollywood is so corrupt and corrupting that anyone seeking to live an upright life should be EXTREMELY wary of any major motion picture these days (I know I am). For the record, here is a list of enough reasons not to see the film without edits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/parentalguide

  7. with the lord of the rings having plenty of leaven and a little leaven corrupts the whole lump – children would be better of watching christian movies instead of wasting their time on movies which even slightly dabble in the occult.

    1. I agree in principle, but I just don’t think one could at all classify the Lord of the Rings as dabbling in the occult. It seems to me that Gandalf hates magic, plain and simple. I would almost go so far as to liken his character to someone struggling with SSA but living a chaste life and rejecting homosexuality.

  8. Dear Friends,

    A further consideration. Consider how well Mel Gibson portrayed the moral depravity in Herod’s dwelling. You could really feel it, really understand it, and were sickened by it. But the scene was depicted in a perfectly appropriate manner; it did not leave your soul stained with the imprint of a graphic sexual act, nor does it violate the dignity of any of the actors.

  9. I would agree with your post daniel . Also so many things are done for ‘christian’ charity that involve evil – I know since I did this – organising church hall drinking dances where people got drunk – with the good part being the charity funds.

    I dont agree with the harry potter , lord of the rings etc stuff either. People say that it is less harmful than the status
    quo but less evil is still evil.

    I knew the scripture – dont do evil that good might result – but a lack of continual bible study leads to the broad way.

    1. Thank you so much, Charles! It is good to know I am not alone with this.

      I would of course agree with you on most of that, although I would say that personally I think that the Lord of the Rings can actually be very good. Contrast it to Harry Potter – in which the occult is expressly and explicitly encouraged and glorified the entire book/movie. In the Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, the “wizard” in it (Gandalf) despises magic: he rarely uses it and when he does it can barely even be considered magic, he rebukes others for asking him to use magic, and he insists upon doing things the right way. He is constantly offering Christian messages, and indeed the whole story is a Catholic one.

  10. I’m more than a little confused about what you mean by “those scenes”. Are you referring to the Lovely Ladies portion? Or the part of Master of the house? Those are the biggest objectionable parts of the movie. i will definitely cede to that point in Master of the House. I almost facepalmed in the movie theater when I saw it.

    I did not, in all honesty, have much of a problem with the film’s adaption of Lovely Ladies. The manner in which the prostitutes were portrayed left very little for me to be tempted by; heck, just watching Samantha Barks as Eponine was more of a temptation for me than it! The essential evil besides portraying sexuality in art is how it is portrayed. If it is done in a way that is not glorifying sex, then it is nowhere near as evil as most sex scenes in movies. Even more so, as I said before

    So no, I’m not entirely disagreeing with you. I just think this is going too far into the tirade spectrum. I enjoy this movie, and I believe that despite portraying prostitutes, it is far more moral sexually than most modern movies, which portray immorality in a good light. I will praise this movie, and defend it; I will just warn people about those two scenes which, while not itself being absolutely bad, can tempt people. To me, it’s subjective more than objective.

    1. Well again, I did not see the movie so I cannot comment with too much detail, but I am referring to the Santa scene and probably also the one in Fantine’s chamber.

      Your argument is valid when referring to violence: indeed, how violence is portrayed (whether or not it is glamorized and gratuitous) is what determines whether it is acceptable in an art form. But that is not a valid argument with graphic sexuality; this should never be graphically portrayed and put forth as art. Never. It destroys the actors, and it taints the viewers.

      1. Well, first my argument is valid: I was not stating that something of a graphic sexual nature (which I do not think Les Mis was, although I could be mistaken) is entirely moral if portrayed in an non-glorifying way; no, it isn’t. However, it is certainly better than a scene which glorifies immorality. But, yeah, using contrasts often lend one to be misunderstood.

        I will definitely agree with the Santa one, as I said before. Fantine’s first customer, from my recollection (I Dreamed a Dream kinda made that fade out of my mind) was not too bad, although it was rather edgy. As I said, I would simply advise caution more than labeling it as explicitly immoral.

        Thank you, at any rate, for your edit: I was quite a bit confused by the vagueness you used the first time around.

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