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.
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.
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.