Somewhere Beyond the Barricade


Kate and I saw Les Miserables tonight, the new film starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe. It is a truly stunning movie. The director, his crew, and these talented actors were able to take the spectacle of the stage show and translate it into a remarkably intimate story. Kate and I agreed that we’ve never had a movie experience quite like it, and we drove home from our date night in almost total silence.

I was completely engrossed by the movie, but a couple times during the film—to my surprise—my mind suddenly detoured: first, to a conversation I had this afternoon about the theology of predestination, and then to the biblical book of Isaiah. Today’s discussion about predestination was brief and friendly, but I admit that I spent many late nights in my twenties endlessly debating a subject that smarter people than me have been arguing about for centuries. Watching the scenes of the Parisian peasants crying out for social and economic justice, watching the young men on the barricades die in each other’s arms, I started thinking again about the roiling waters of human striving, the great mass of humanity, Kate sitting next to me, my daughter at home in bed, Gavroche dying on the cobblestones…and I thought to myself, “Could there be a less important thing to talk about than predestination?”

Honestly, what came to mind is this:

“The multitude of your arguments about predestination—what are they to me? I have enough of your debates about eternal security, more than enough of your pre-wrath and amillennial, and your endless tribs (pre-, mid-, and post-)…They have become a burden to me…Stop doing wrong, learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

This is tonight’s interpretation (my very context-specific interpretation, mostly my own words, not a translation or paraphrase) of Isaiah 1:11-17. Defending the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow—that’s exactly what Jean Valjean did of course. And then he sang with the final chorus:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes…
Tomorrow comes!


22 comments on “Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

  1. I love Les Miserables as well. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I felt the same way about that final song, a culmination of a great story that saw into the future we’re all praying for, hoping for, and hopefully WORKING for. Thank you, John. Beautifully written.

    • Thanks, Susan. As I mentioned in the post, I had seen the stage show but I guess what I focused on most that night was the score, the staging, and the spectacle. Something about the intimacy of the film, though, finally put me in touch with how incredible the lyrics are. I’d like to learn more someday about how the novel was first adapted into a musical.

  3. Me, too. I’d seen the musical three times, all from the 30th row or further. The film brought us right in to the faces, and I followed the story all the clearer. I don’t know much about the making of the musical, but Les Miz was such a phenomenon, I’m sure there are books about the making of. Lar got me Hugo’s novel for Christmas. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  4. My favorite Victor Hugo quote, “No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.”

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