"Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men. It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!"
— Do You Hear the People Sing?
Les Misérables is a 2012 film version of the stage musical of the same name, which in turn was an adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic book of the same name. Despite being an adaptation of the musical, it also incorporates elements from the novel that were left out of the musical. It was produced by Cameron Mackintosh, directed by Tom Hooper, and starred Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks as Eponine, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Sacha Baron Cohen as Monsieur Thenardier, and Helena Bonham-Carter as Madame Thenardier. Notable for Hooper's decision to have the vocals recorded live on set, as opposed to having the actors lip-synch to prerecorded tracks, to create more natural performances.Released on Christmas Day 2012 in the United States, the film was well-received at the box office, breaking the record for the highest opening day gross for a musical film (a record previously held by High School Musical 3), as well as currently being the second-highest Christmas day launch to date (a record currently held by Sherlock Holmes).note It wound up the fourth-highest-grossing Christmas film, behind Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, and Meet the Fockers. The film won three Golden Globes (Best Supporting Actress for Hathaway; Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Jackman; and Best Comedy or Musical Picture), was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won three (Best Supporting Actress for Hathaway; Makeup & Hairstyling; and Sound Mixing).
In addition to tropes inherited from both the novel and the stage adaptation of this story, this film provides examples of:
Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Averted, unlike some stage productions. Valjean has to force himself and Marius through a tiny tunnel, and the parts where the ceiling is high enough to stand are so filled with gunk that it's easier to drown.
Accidental Misnaming: Thénardier always gets Cosette's name wrong, especially when he's proclaiming how much he cares for her. At one point he even calls her "Courgette" which is the French (and British English) word for zucchini.
Helena Bonham-Carter is this yet again, along with Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers. In the novel, Mme. Thenardier is a massive, muscular woman with highly masculine features, and is frequently compared to an ogress. M. Thenardier is described as a sickly-looking "runt" who is not at all good looking. Performances of the musical tend to cast actors whose physical appearance along with make-up more or less fit those descriptions. However, Carter in the role is made-up to look blowsy looking but otherwise has no change in her appearance, and Cohen, while showing a bit of Thenardier's creepy vibe, is probably the best looking and most stylishly dressed incarnation of the character.
In the book and to a lesser extent in adaptations, Valjean looks like an old man by time he rescues Cosette (and in the book has stark white hair after being Locked into Strangeness). In the film, he's Hugh Jackman.
The younger actors fall into this too. Éponine in the book is scrawny, dirty, and not attractive at all, but in the film she is portrayed by the lovely Samantha Barks. Same goes for several of the barricade boys, who are invariably attractive onscreen.
Grantaire in particular is said to be ugly. His actor, George Blagden, is the opposite.
Adaptation Distillation: Inevitable, given the source material, as well as the length of the stage adaptation. Tom Hooper stated that the original cut of the movie clocked at 4:15 and he and the editing department were tasked with cutting it down to the max amount of time acceptable for a movie (2:30). It's a bit of an Understatement to say that people are less than pleased that there isn't an extended version of the film.
The Amis, who all have unique personality traits in the book, are barely named in the stage version, and so the group as a whole almost goes unnamed over the length of the film, save for Enjolras. Two of the other boys are mentioned by name, but they're hard to hear in the chaos of the film and watchers unfamiliar with the musical or the book wouldn't know they were names - it's a wonder they bothered including the characters' names in the credits, especially considering that at least 2/3 of the other men at the barricade didn't have named parts (or even lines) at all.
Adaptation Dye-Job: Fantine is a blonde and Cosette is a brunette in the book, and in most versions of the stage production. In this film, the hair color roles are reversed. Dark-haired Marius is a redhead in the film. The switch of Cosette's and Fantine's hair colors may likely have been done with the purpose of making it easier to tell Cosette apart from Eponine, who in turn is auburn-haired in the book but is brunette here.
Tom Hooper's added backstory has Army Officer fall into this. Hooper had Tveit (Enjolras) and Fraser (the Army Officer/Loudhailer) act as if they both grew up together. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it zoom on the Army Officer's face has him looking relatively distressed as he takes his shot at Enjolras and Grantaire. He doesn't look exactly happy after Gavroche's death, either.
Backstory Horror: When Éponine dies, the camera deliberately pans to show Gavroche, tears running down his face. This has extra resonance for those who have read the book, which explains that Éponine is his sister.
There's been confirmation that there was, in fact, a scene filmed in which Gavroche reveals this information to Courfeyrac. Note, too, that during the scene in which Javert walks through observing the damage from the battle that Eponine and Gavroche's bodies are laid out next to each other.
Javert mentions he was born in jail. In the novel it's revealed that his mother was a fortune teller who lived in jail while her husband was serving his time, and that the boy spent several years being raised in what was basically a hellhole. Explains a lot of his adult personality.
Tom Hooper had Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) and Hadley Fraser (the Army Officer) act as if the Army Officer/Loudhailer and Enjolras grew up together as childhood friends. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it zoom on the Army Officer's face shows him more distressed than determined when he takes his shot at Enjolras and Grantaire. It may also explain why the Army Officer is more sorrowful sounding than authoritative when he addresses Enjolras, as most versions of the character would be.
Badass and Child Duo: Valjean and young Cosette, amped up from the stage version by reincorporating the sequence from the novel where they flee Javert through the dark streets of Paris.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: At least if you're a person of romantic interest, the trope is played with: Fantine gets to be properly tarnished during her fall from grace, but Éponine is remarkably clean and well-nourished for someone living the life she has, as is Cosette.
Casting Gag: Anne Hathaway's mother, Kate McCauley, played Fantine in the stage show's first U.S. national tour. Additionally, Eponine is played by Samantha Barks, who played the role in the West End production. And many of the actors who comprise the barricade boys played similar roles (or Marius) in different productions. Some of the soldiers as well—that's Hadley Fraser (who's played Javert onstage) as one of them.
Chekhov's Gunman: Fauchelevant, the man Valjean saves from being crushed in "Runaway Cart", has this role restored to him among the bits from the novel added back in.
Close on Title: The film has no opening credits, causing the title card to show up during the end credits instead.
Compressed Adaptation: Compared to the original novel, yes. But the film is actually decompressed somewhat from the stage version, with several plot points and at least one character (Marius' grandfather) restored.
Covered in Gunge: Almost everyone in the film to some extent except for adult Cosette; especially Valjean and Marius after their escape through the sewers.
Cut Song: "Dog Eat Dog", Thénardier's song in the sewers, is reduced to four spoken words ("Here's a pretty ring"). "Little People" appears only in the reprises when Gavroche exposes Javert and defies the soldiers at the barricade. "Drink With Me" and "Beggars at the Feast" are both down to a single verse each, and "Turning" gets a handful of lines.
It's worse on the Highlights Soundtrack, where several of the songs in the film were trimmed. Those songs include "Who Am I?", "Lovely Ladies", "A Little Fall of Rain", and believe it or not, "Do You Hear The People Sing?".
Apparently, the full version of Beggars at the Feast was filmed (involving hijinks with the Thenardiers and the wedding cake) but was cut.
However, the Deluxe Soundtrack includes most of the songs except for some short ones like "The Runaway Cart" and the newly added songs still have some cut parts.
Darker and Edgier: While the musical is widely acknowledge for being unusually grim and pessimistic by the genre's standards, the movie goes even further by averting Bloodless Carnage, adopting the Dung Ages approach for the depicting the historical era, and generally eschewing the highly stylized sets of the musical in favour of gritty naturalism.
Due to the Dead: No one shoots at Courfeyrac when he comes out to collect Gavroche's body.
The Dung Ages: The movie pulls no punches in depicting the squalor of early 1800's Paris. There is grime, dirt, and sludge everywhere and, at one on point or another, on everyone.
Dutch Angle: Used often to the Thenardiers in order to make them seem more unpleasant. It's also used at the beginning of Marius's meeting with Valjean, to reflect his excitement about being married to his daughter.
The Everyman: Valjean, who carries this status over from the book and musical.
It's worth noting that though he isn't named in the film, Combeferre (blond in the blue vest and red tie played by Killian Donnelly) is the most active of the revolutionaries in film and manages to represent the average man in every sense of the word in his actions on the day the barricades rose: He's enraged at the death of an innocent woman and drags out the man responsible before shooting him; he is angry with Marius when he threatens to blow the barricade to ward off the soldiers; he tries to call Gavroche back to the other side of the barricade and holds back Courfeyrac when the latter attempts to save Gavroche; and still tries to find refuge for his friends and shield them even when the situation is hopeless.
Face Death with Dignity: When Enjolras is cornered he stares down the soldiers and raises the flag defiantly. Even Grantaire stands tall beside him.
Family-Unfriendly Death: Not only does Javert jump into the river, he lands on a ledge with such a loud CRACK! there's zero chance he survived.
Foreshadowing: "Stars" is staged with Javert standing on top of a building looking up at the stars and down on the city; the staging is echoed, in some places shot-for-shot, for "Javert's Suicide", making the latter a visual Dark Reprise. Furthermore, both times he teeters on the edge, walking the fine line between safety and doom. In several shots, there is a not at all subtle eagle sculpture behind him, giving him an angelic wing on one side, and the night's sky representing darkness and doom on the other.
Fourth Wall Psych: In Gavroche's reprise of "Look Down", he is addressing other characters, rather than the audience as he did in the stage show. As a result, when he says the line, "How do you do? My name's Gavroche" the line is addressed to a rich man whose carriage he's just invaded, who looks like he'd just as soon have foregone the acquaintance. At one point he appears to be directly speaking to the camera, but the next change of camera angle shows that he's actually speaking to a group of his fellow urchins.
Funny Background Event: In "Red and Black," when Marius comes to the cafe and declares he's going to fight, Gavroche is behind him with a fist pump and an audible "Yes!"
High Dive Escape: Valjean escapes from Javert at the hospital by leaping from a window into the river.
Hoist by His Own Petard: A subtle one for Javert: When the students are building the barricades, Javert is seen hiding something behind a cabinet at the Corinthe tavern. When Gavroche rats him out, he runs to get it, revealing it to be a baton that he intends to defend himself with— which the students then wrestle out of his hands and use to knock him out.
Hollywood Old: Valjean, Javert, and the adult Thénardiers don't change much during the years that Cosette grows from Isabelle Allen into Amanda Seyfried (and likewise, Eponine ages from Natalya Angel Wallace into Samantha Barks), except that some of their hair greys up a little bit.
Incurable Cough of Death: Fantine starts getting one during "I Dreamed a Dream", which worsens thereafter. At "Fantine's Death", you can see bloodstains on her bedclothes suggesting she's progressed to coughing up blood.
The style in which Anne Hathaway sings "I Dreamed a Dream", complete with dripping snot. Emphasized by the entire song being The Oner with a closeup on her face. Hathaway stated in an interview that unlike in the musical, the film’s actors weren’t all cast to be able to wow the audience with their stellar voice alone, so she imbued her performance with as much raw emotion as possible. It earned her an Oscar, so it had been a good idea.
Infant Immortality: Subverted with Gavroche, even moreso than in the stage adaptation, with a long, extended scene of him defying a soldier's orders and getting shot at while singing "Little People", until the soldier eventually hits him square for the kill, with no Gory Discretion Shots to hide the fact that a soldier just killed a child.
Karma Houdini: The Thénardiers get roughly carried out of Marius and Cosette's wedding (after Marius has punched Monsieur Thénardier in the face), but otherwise they apparently suffer no punishment for their misbehaviors.
Kick the Dog: In "Master of the House", the Thénardiers are seen replacing an outgoing guest's luggage with a baby carrier (complete with baby) and Monsieur Thénardier casually chops off a cat's tail to fill up the sausages with this and that. Word of God says that the baby is an infant Gavroche, given that Gavroche is supposed to be ten when the main action happens, which is nine years after "Master of the House"'s events happen. And given details mentioned in other trope entries.
In a way, "Valjean's soliloquy" and "Javert's Suicide". Valjean and Javert sing the same lines at the end of each song, but one ends with Valjean starting over clean and one ends in Javert's suicide.
When the Bishop hands the candlesticks to Valjean, after he had discovered Valjean had stolen all of his silverware; it's a blink and you'll miss it moment, but at the beginning of "Who Am I?", they can be seen on his table.
When Valjean leaves Cosette and Marius to retire to the monastery to die, the candlesticks are right beside him once again.
Missing Trailer Scene: Some scenes in the trailers, such as shots of Javert and his men running with search lanterns in hand, and Cosette, who is in her wedding dress, riding in the carriage and looking very happy, don't actually appear in the movie itself.
Movie Bonus Song: "Suddenly" is a new song created for this production, in which Valjean sings about how his life has been opened up by Cosette. It was written by the same songwriters as the other songs in the musical, making it blend in better.
There are also several dialogue songs such as "Javert's Introduction" written to convey extra information whilst keeping the film as completely sung-through.
The "Work Song" features the convicts pulling a ship into a drydock, which may be a reference to some earlier adaptations (including at least one production of the musical) which depicted the convicts as actual Galley Slaves.
As Cosette sweeps and sings "Castle on a Cloud", if you freeze at the right moment, there's a momentary live-action reproduction of the famous engraving of Cosette sweeping◊ that became the musical's emblem.
At the end of "The Confrontation", Valjean escapes Javert by jumping off a window into a body of water. At that point in the original novel, Valjean was recaptured and brought back to the galleys, but escaped by pretending to drown.
The elephant statue from the Brick makes a cameo in the film.
It's more a case of Translation Convention, since they're speaking French anyway - Cockney being a good stand-in for the working class Parisian accent.
Object Tracking Shot: After Valjean tears up his parole record and tosses it away, the camera follows a piece that floats up to the sky then swiftly falls as the film does the first time jump to "At The End of the Day". May be a possible shout-out to an older adaptation that used a similar shot.
The Oner: The film sometimes pushes its (primarily film rather than stage) actors really hard in this regard. The most magnificent example of this is probably Anne Hathaway's spectacular rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream", which is done in one take and goes through Dull Eyes of Unhappiness, nostalgia, regret, sobbing and panicked gasping all while keeping the camera focused firmly on her face.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The accent that Sacha Baron Cohen uses as Monsieur Thénardier varies from kind of lower-class British to slightly over-the-top French when he's trying to impress someone. May be appear odd and somewhat jarring due to the fact that he's the only one to use a French accent and play with the Translation Convention. Also, Valjean in early scenes (especially What Have I Done?) sounds suspiciously Irish.
Also, despite the fact that the lead roles went mostly to Americans and Australians, it's surprising that so many people's solos have various shades of English accents throughout the movie.
Forget "suspiciously" Irish. Fra Fee (Courfeyrac) can't seem to keep his Irish accent from making frequent appearances. The slip that occurs at around 0:35 of this scene reached near memetic levels among fans.
Opening Scroll: Opens with one, perhaps to clarify to non-French viewers that this film is not about THE French Revolution, but a later one.
1815. TWENTY SIX YEARS AFTER THE START OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. A KING IS ONCE AGAIN ON THE THRONE OF FRANCE.
Ray of Hope Ending: The revolutionaries lose the fight against the corrupt government, but Marius survives and gets married with his beloved Cosette, and the epilogue suggests the revolution will fight another day in liberating France.
Real Men Love Jesus: Valjean's religiosity is restored to how it is in the book (some productions of the musical may downplay it). The honor of being a more classical (and borderline redneck) kind of this goes, as usual, to Javert, a change inherited from the musical (in the book, religion never enters Javert's thoughts until Valjean shows him mercy, but let's face it, it would have looked pretty silly for Javert to pray to a Lawbook).
Javert's habit, if you can call it that, of walking on high ledges. Weird? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Demonstrative of his belief that he is morally superior (and therefore higher), that God will not let him fall, and foreshadowing for his eventual death? Oh hell yes.
The eagle and night sky behind Javert forming an angelic wing and void.
The barricade erected by the doomed revolutionaries has coffins mounted on the front of it. It has a big red coffin and a small blue one. What were Enjolras and Gavroche wearing?
As Valjean prays to God in "Bring Him Home", a giant eye "Looks Down" on him from a billboard in the background.
In "A Little Fall of Rain", Éponine and Marius lean on a French flag, with the words "La Mort" clearly visible. And what does it mean? Death. Makes one wonder what's going to happen to her and the barricade boys.
Colm Wilkinson, who played the original Jean Valjean in the stage version appears as the Bishop of Digne. When he gives Hugh Jackman's Valjean the silver candlesticks in the movie he is passing on the baton of Jean Valjean. Plus a number of actors that make up the barricade boys also played Marius or Enjolras in the stage versions.
"Don't they know they're making love to one already dead?" sings Fantine at the end of "Lovely Ladies", and for "I Dreamed A Dream," she spends the next few minutes in a box resembling a coffin, complete with pillows. note Anne Hathaway even said in interview with Jon Stewart that, among the many, many takes of "I Dreamed A Dream" that were shot, one of them was entirely inside a coffin.
During Javert's roof walking sequence in "Stars", there is a shot of Notre-Dame without her spire. It's accurate, since the original one was demolished during the 18th century prior to this time period, and the building of the current one did not begin before 1845. Also, the depiction of the area of Saint-Michel as one huge dirty hovel. At the time, it was just that.
The uniforms Javert and the constables wear also count: the 1823 version sports the fleur-de-lys, the traditional symbol of the French monarchy. On the 1832 version, it has disappeared, since the July Monarchy had dropped its use in 1831.
Signature Style: The film, like The King's Speech, is filled with distinctive walls with distressed layers of paint, eye-catching bricks, or battle damage, along with an unsteady and claustrophobic camera.
Stealth Pun: After the final battle at the barricade, when Valjean flees with Marius into the sewers to avoid capture, there is a shot of Javert searching for him with that Determinator face he has. Cut to Valjean in the sewers, and the background music is now the melody of the Work Song from the beginning, when it was accompanied by the lyrics "look down, look down".
Take a Third Option: Javert's solution of whether To Be Lawful or Good — morally, he can't continue to harass a man who saved his life, but legally he can't let a convict go free — is to kill himself.
A Taste of the Lash: Valjean is not shown being flogged during his time as a convict, but in the "Work Song", he's got injuries suggesting that it's happened to him.
That Poor Cat: In "Master of the House," we see Thernardier chopping off a cat's tail and placing it in a mincer to pretend it's beef.
Thousand-Yard Stare: Marius sports this briefly after the events at the barricade. It takes a love song from Cosette to pull him out.
And another one, though brief, is at the end where the dead people start singing "Do You Hear the People Sing? (Reprise)". As he was hugging Cosette, his gaze briefly, but perceptibly, shifts into this - Word of God has stated this is because Marius can actually hear them singing. And that Marius is one foot in the real world with his wife, the other in the afterlife with all his dead friends.
What the Hell, Hero?: Not all of the students are happy about Marius' gunpowder stunt. Combeferre (the blond in the blue vest and red tie), in particular, practically shouts at Marius' face, "What were you thinking, Marius?! You could have gotten us all killed! My life is not yours to risk, Marius!"
Colm Wilkinson (the original stage Valjean) is the Bishop of Digne. Frances Ruffelle (who originated the role of Éponine), is a prostitute that appears in "Lovely Ladies". Samantha Barks, who plays Éponine in the film, had played the role in the London production.
Similarly, quite a few of the barricade boys are played by barricade boys from the West End production — Killian Donnelly (who was a swing and played pretty much all the roles, and then a principal Enjolras), Fra Fee (who understudied Enjolras and Marius), and Alistair Brammer (who was principal Marius for a while), for instance. Also, Hadley Fraser (who has played Grantaire, Marius, and Javert) as the Army General/Loudhailer.
It's not limited to the barricade boys: female Les Mis alumni appearing in the film include Katie Hall, Alexia Khadime, Gina Beck, and Caroline Sheen.