06 December 2012

Eschatology in Les Mis

Some time ago, I was fortunate enough to see Les Misérables at the Fox Theater. As wonderful as the theater (an old movie palace done up in a breath-taking Arabesque style) is, as amazing as the set design was, and as moving as the performance itself was, there is one thing that I cannot shake: the finale.

As the story draws to a close, we are shown a dying Jean ValJean as he is led to Heaven by Fantine and Éponine as all of the characters who died over the course of the narrative return to the stage to sing once more, "Do you hear the people sing?

This time, though, the lyrics are not about a political revolution. Instead, they sing of a world "beyond the barricade" where "the wretched of the earth" will find a "flame that never dies." It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen on stage.

Taken in and of itself, this scene is a unique presentation of the eschatological hope in the Peaceable Kingdom. What makes the scene so moving, though, is just how awful the events leading up to it had been; Les Mis follows only behind the works of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians in killing off as many characters in as many heart-wrenching ways as possible. Much like the early Church's expectation of Christ's imminent parousia in the context of Roman persecution, the events of the student revolution leave little hope for a happy ending. And yet we hear the people sing, though they are lost in the valley of the night. Their voices ascend as they are climbing to the light.

The darkest night will end.

Rock on.