I was recently held spellbound in a small cinema on the outskirts of Atlanta. A friend offered me an invitation to attend an advance screening of Les Miserables, a film based on the classic book by Victor Hugo and the hit Broadway musical it inspired. For nearly three hours, I sat rapt in awe of the breathtaking aesthetics and captivating melodies. But more than that, I was reminded again of God’s power to transform human hearts.
In this moving story, Victor Hugo tells of the redemption of convict Jean Valjean. Having been released from prison, he encounters a priest whose act of mercy and love open Valjean’s eyes to the power of such virtues. Along his journey, we meet other characters who undergo similar transformations, reinforcing the redemptive theme sewn throughout the film.
The most moving moment comes when a broken woman named Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) sings “I Dreamed a Dream” that expresses human disappointment in such rawness that moviegoers may be driven to tears. Hathaway herself cries from the scene’s emotion in this uncut scene taken from a single camera shot.
Christians cannot afford to miss this movie or the themes it so powerfully portrays. Yes, this is technically a “secular” film, but it is perhaps the most “Christian” artwork I’ve seen in some time.
I’m reminded of evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer who, in the 1970s, was disturbed that so many Christians saw secular music, film, poetry, and visual art as nothing more than aesthetics hanging on the fringe of life. Or worse, as a way for worldliness to creep in the back door.
But Schaeffer saw art as something more. He saw it as an expression of the image in God in us, which empowers us to create much like the Creator does. And he viewed art as a medium for expressing our humanity and our worldview. In other words, art—whether secular or religious—can be a space where we might glimpse the things of God or even encounter Him in a new way.
“It is possible for a non-Christian writer or painter to write and paint according to a Christian worldview even thought he himself is not a Christian,” Schaeffer wrote in Art and the Bible.
In other words, people of faith should encounter good art wherever we find it, recognizing that we might learn from the messages rising out of the medium. If you decide to see Les Miserables over the Christmas holiday, prepare to be touched and transformed. Not just by what you see and hear—as spellbinding as those elements are—but by the redemptive themes that will excavate the sensitive places in your own heart.
Watch the trailer here: