Empty Chairs At Empty Tables: “Les Miz” and Sandy Hook

I got through Tom Hooper’s “Les Miz” (*there are spoilers in this post] without the cathartic cry so many experienced. I thought the movie was only just pretty good , with fantastic performances by Hugh Jackman (Huge Ackman, as I like to call him), Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Eponine. I felt that only the three of them managed to serve both the demands of the camera and the musical score. I left an eight- minute review of the film on my Facebook page (there’s a link on the bottom of this page if you’re interested in following me there) if you want to hear more on that.

I had fun giggling to myself over alternate title for the film, things like “White People In Trouble.” I finally settled on “White People Walking Toward the Camera Crying and Singing.”

I have seen the show many times and identified with various characters along the way. My mom gave me the score (on a cassette tape!) as a gift for my birthday when I was in college. I will never forget the thrill I got when I first heard that four-note cascade of twinkling sound that signaled the start of the show and serves as its theme. “One day more…!” I had been planning to go out that night, but I hung up my coat, called my boyfriend (on the DIAL PHONE that plugged into the wall — there was no coordinating to “meet up later” in those days, as there was no way to get in touch once you left the house) and cancelled our date. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and listened to the entire score, sobbing at “I Dreamed a Dream” and feeling ecstatically wrung out by the time the friendly ghosts surrounded Jean Valjean to accompany him to heaven.

I have been Fantine, I have been Eponine. I have been little Cosette. I have been Javert, and the Thénadiers (and of course, Mme. Thenadier is a dream role). I have been Valjean, and Marius, and I have been Enjolras, the student revolutionary.

This time, for the first time, I was Gavroche.

Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) is the little street urchin who delivers messages between the barricade and the streets, and who is shot several times by soldiers as he cockily attempts one last dodge through the front line. In what was the most moving moment for me in the movie, Inspector Javert pins a medal from his own jacket onto Gavroche’s dead body. They are fighting for different sides of the rebellion, but Javert knows that here lies a truly courageous soldier.

While previous viewings of “Les Miz” provided a delicious sort of romantic pain –oh, the lovelorn Eponine! Oh, the neglected child Cosette! Oh, the tormented obsession of neurotic Javert! — this viewing just hurt. It hurt because of the shooting, at almost point-blank range, of pre-adolescent Gavroche. It hurt because, although some cultural critics have raised the issue of the studio’s silence around the shooting of a child in their blockbuster release, we all know there is nothing to say. How can we be such ridiculous hypocrites as to protest the shooting death of a fictitious child in a movie about a student revolution in 19th century France while we live the way we live in 21st century America?

Spare me the hand-wringing. Of course it’s responsible and considerate to inform American viewers in December of 2012 that the film includes a scene of a child being shot and killed. But let’s not waste our time debating the emotional harm that might be caused by that scene, or any other scenes of violence depicted in the movies. Scenes of violence always cause emotional harm. It’s just that humans decided long, long ago that violence is an acceptable form of public entertainment, not just for sadists and psychopaths, but for everyone.

I wonder how many shooting deaths I’ve seen in the movies and television in my life? It has to be in the thousands, and I’m not a big action genre fan (although I do enjoy it, and some of my favorite movies are extremely violent). You could argue that even before moving picture entertainment, people could read about shooting deaths. Sure they could. But they almost never saw them with their own eyes unless they had been to war.

We have all been de-sensitized. We’re mostly pretty numb to gun violence unless it has taken someone we personally know. Children are killed by guns all the time in the cities and so far, America has not much cared. Kill them one by one on a street corner, one by one walking from school through the empty parking lot, one by one through the walls of their bedrooms while they sleep and no one much cares. Kill them by the classroom full and suddenly we realize that we’re sacrificing our nation’s children to the false idol of a monstrous interpretation of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment, perverted by paranoid domestic terrorists and sustained by the insatiable greed of the gun lobby, is now impossible not to see in anthropomorphized form as a monster, dripping with the blood of human sacrifice.

I will never again be able to hear this song, sung with heart-wrenching beauty in the film by Eddie Redmayne, without thinking of little kids coloring or playing or talking at kindergarten tables, while attentive, loyal teachers hover around. There’s a pain that can’t be spoken.

At least little Gavroche knew what he was dying for.

Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone….

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me.

That I live and you are gone
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on.

Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more.

Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more.

– from “Les Miserables,” music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Alain Boublil (French), English by Herbert Kreztmer


2 Replies to “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables: “Les Miz” and Sandy Hook”

  1. A shadow of grief permeated my Christmas this year, of the angst and unspeakable grief of unopened gifts beneath boughs of saddened trees, the visceral absence that will remain beyond the scent of a loved one still lingering on their pillows and jammies… I’ve no need to see “Le Miz”, as I’ve witnessed the suffering of friends who unexpectedly lost a child 10 years ago. The fractured lives of those who survived will never know justification. The stolen innocence of surviving classmates.

  2. I was thinking of Sandy Hook for the same reason, with Gavrouche’s death and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” I thought of the little boy Jack who died, whose best friend wrote him such sweet notes and pictures. 🙁 It was a bit cathartic. I can’t imagine. The pain does go on and on. Sometimes, you just need a place to cry and watching Les Mis is a good place to do that.

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