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Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Redmayne’

Among the many instances in which we find, in popular media, a beautiful female either falling in love with or giving her affection to a comparatively unattractive and/or awkward male are the following:

Theory of EverythingWe have the graceful and lovely Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and the nerdy, awkward Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything.”

Bill HaverchuckVicki ApplebyGoing back about 15-16 years to the short-lived but subsequently quite popular television series “Freaks and Geeks,” we find cute cheerleader Vicki Appleby (JoAnne Garcia Swisher) in the closet with lanky geek Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) after a game of spin-the-bottle.  At first she is perfectly beastly toward him, but she gradually warms up to him and, before their time is up, gives him a kiss.

Beauty and the BeastAnd then of course there is the archetypal “Beauty and the Beast.”  Need I say more?

We tend to see and hear about situations like these, in which a man not blessed with physical attractiveness or grace is nonetheless blessed with the affection of a beautiful woman, and think to ourselves: “Wow — good for him.”

But let’s reverse the situation a minute.  Imagine a strapping, musclebound, suave, and extremely handsome young man lovingly courting a woman who is grossly overweight, wears glasses, has a retainer, and has nothing of what anyone would consider conventional attractiveness. We see something like that and we think: “Wow — good for him.”

See where I’m going with this?  When a woman looks beyond mere appearances and finds the goodness inside, we think very little in her favor.  We expect it of her.  But when a man does so, we seem to think he is “going the extra mile,” and to be heartily congratulated for it.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2“Albrecht Dürer – Adam and Eve (Prado) 2” by Albrecht Dürer – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg#/media/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg

Granted, part of this may be due to a certain intuition about the nature of man and woman.  We read in Genesis 2 that Adam was created before Eve, surveyed all of creation in its manifold richness (rocks, trees, sea, animals, etc.), and could not find a companion suitable for himself; God then makes Eve, the first woman.

Don’t panic. Whether or not this is literally how events transpired is irrelevant.  What the Sacred Text gives us is a psychology of man and woman.  Through the person of Adam, we see that man’s initial purview includes merely things.  Granted, some of these are living things; but even these are not en-souled persons like himself.  The arrival of the woman completes his purview.

On the other hand, through Eve we see that woman’s purview from the very beginning includes persons.  This is perhaps fitting, since she is meant to bear life within herself for nine months.  It may be, therefore, that a certain nurturing spirit, awareness of beauty within, and gift of oneself in kindness comes more naturally to women than to men.

So it is quite possible that a similar insight explains why media portrayals of beautiful-woman-falls-for-not-so-beautiful-man are more frequent than the opposite.  Still, while it is true that our intuitions influence art and media, the reverse is also true.

Let me be clear: Recognizing that beauty is not only skin deep is good. To recognize a woman’s ability to see this is likewise good. But as a man, I am concerned that we do not hold ourselves to the same standard.  Discernment in romantic matters is no easy thing, and no one of either sex should have to bear this burden alone.

Image of Adam and Eve from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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les-miserables-dawnTom Hooper’s adaptation of “Les Misérables” ends with a re-gathering of all the characters — including those who have died — in some mysterious “new dawn” accompanied by the song “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

I have two things to say about this:

1) We notice that the song is reconfigured a bit from its performance earlier in the film, going from an anthem to an earthly utopia to a testament to man’s greater hope.

2) This moment is in some sense prefigured not only by the earlier performance of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” but also in the general use of music throughout the film.

We notice at various times that different characters in different physical locations are singing the same song, or else singing different songs with a very similar thematic structure…

lovers

…whether it is Marius and Cosette pining for one another…

rebels

…the rebels seeking a new order…

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…Fantine weeping for her lost innocence…

Javert…Javert seeking justice…

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…or Jean Valjean seeking redemption.

However different our circumstances in this world, however different our roles and goals, whatever our worldly destinies, and however different our paths through life, we are all ordered to the same destiny.  We are all meant to form the family of God eternally, to the crowning glory of the New Heavens and New Earth — or the summation of all things in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

This is God’s desire for all humanity. It is for this reason that He sent His only Begotten Son to become a man, like us human beings in all things except sin, to bear our sins in His own body, to die for us, and to restore our life by His Resurrection.

There are none left out of this destiny except those who are excluded by their own choice, by their refusal of God’s call to repentance and conversion.  In the case of “Les Misérables,” this includes Javert (see my post “Act II, Scene 2/3” — https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/les-miserables-dvd-review-act-ii-scene-23-the-small-stuff/) and Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, the devious innkeeping couple who use poverty as an excuse for behavior that is inimical to community.

On that Final Day, we will know all we need to know.  We will finally see how and in what ways our actions, our sufferings, our prayers, and our very presence in this world affected others.  We will learn why some had to suffer more than others.  We will see the whole of history and creation fulfilled, its meaning disclosed.  Made to share by grace in the very life of God, we “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of (God the) Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Until then, we must strive to help one another reach this sublime destiny.  As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book “The Weight of Glory”:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

Such is the song — the “dance,” if you will — of daily life.  So let us be people of hope, not despair; virtue, not vice; kindness, not cruelty; moderation, not self-indulgence; generosity, not possessiveness…

…Let us sing.

SUPPLEMENTAL VIDEO

In closing, here is a video that in some way bears witness to the higher hope I have touched on.  Most of you have probably already seen Minnesota teenager Zach Sobiech’s moving music video, which he made after learning that he had only months to live — nevertheless, here it is:

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In our last segment we left off with an observation of detachment on the part of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Eponine (Samantha Barks).  Now let’s take a look at how their respective acts of detachment converge in the wedding of Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and then move on from there.

les-mis-eponine-rain

On the one hand we have a lover whose love is unrequited…

Jean Valjean_Cosette

…and on the other an adoptive father reluctant to lose the only companion he has in life.

Both have come to the same realization: “They are not ours to claim.”

Brace yourself, for we are touching a deep vein of the story’s inner life that is necessary for a life both of Grace and transcendence: Detachment.

Colm Wilkinson

It all starts with the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who gives Valjean two of his candlesticks in addition to those of his possessions that Valjean had initially stolen.  In so doing, the Bishop is clearly a man of the Gospel:

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. (Matthew 5: 40-41)

The more detached we are from earthly things, the less we have to lose; the less we have to lose, the less our enemies can take from us, and the more we have to give.

Adam_Eve

The problem of attachment has haunted us since the Fall of Adam and Eve, which made the elevation of the ego and the subservient urge to to dominate people, things, and nature for ourselves normative for mankind — so much so that we tend not even to perceive anything wrong with it unless it gets violent.

We can think of it like a beautiful moth we are tempted to hold in our hands.  It’s great, but what happens when we hold it too tight?  It dies from suffocation.

But when we can let go of those persons and things we cling to inordinately, they have a way of then being able to take flight like the moth, to fulfill their true purpose toward the Kingdom of God.  And we, being unburdened by attachment, have the freedom and levity of heart to do the same ourselves.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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I would, as a viewer, identify four things that make the most difference in the second half of “Les Misérables.”  And these are relatively little things, as opposed to the grand uprising that was the focus of the previous post.

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1. Eponine (Samantha Barks) gives Marius — with whom she is in love — the note he was supposed to have received from Cosette — with whom he is in love — after hiding it.

http://www.yuyi.cc/zy/41549-1-1.html

2. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), fearing to lose his adopted daughter Cosette but knowing her love for Marius, saves the latter’s life in almost total anonymity.

Marius_Cosette

3. The love between Marius and Cosette, which culminates in a happy wedding.

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4. The mercy of Valjean, who at one point has Javert (Russell Crowe) in his grasp but spares his life, even knowing full well that he will continue to hunt him.

It is in these very simple and seemingly mundane actions of rectifying one’s own mistake, risking life and limb for another with no one watching, the love between a man and a woman, and “turning the other cheek” that produce the greatest emotional effect and conduce most to the story’s happy ending.

I think we see our two great themes coming together at this point.  We talked about the futility of a merely this-worldly uprising against institutional oppression in the previous post, and of how the latter is embodied in the character of Javert.

Javert 2Ironically, his side of the coin — namely, the legalistic police state — is another form of the same error.  After all, it is based on the assumption that by force, one can bring about perfect conformity to morality here on earth.  So the problem it poses is an earthly-utopia/transcendent-hope issue is well as a Law/Grace issue.

By showing Grace toward Javert in a self-effacing way, Valjean actually does wind up successfully bucking the “system.”

Javert_SuicideJavert, unfortunately, commits suicide as a result of this.  Having been faced with an understanding of reality for which he has no frame of reference, he simply cannot handle it; and instead of repentance, he chooses despair.

But whatever the result, Valjean has, by way of an action that to all appearances should be judged of little importance, thrown a wrench into the clockwork.

Self-effacing actions, not self-asserting actions, are what effect real and needed change.  Eponine and Valjean succeed in surrendering their own desires/interests, and their respective acts of detachment converge in a wedding…

Next time.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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les-mis-eponin-marius

Again, having seen “Les Misérables” is not mandatory.  We are here dealing with a theme, not plot points.

Ok, we’ve had a break.  Now let’s get back into it.

We’d be remiss if we concluded that the Grace/Law issue is the only great theme that shines through “Les Misérables.”  In fact, I think even that falls under a wider umbrella — namely, hope.

We can say that hope is upheld by the change that Grace allows and legalism prohibits.  But on another level, hope is the “food” of the human race.

I can borrow no better words than those of motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, who has commented on the difference made by people “who believed that the future could be bigger than the past.”*

“Les Misérables” bears witness to hope, but it is also a cautionary tale.  We have to remember that hope transcends us, and must be patiently awaited until it is ready to meet us on its own terms.

Humility is mandatory.  Look at it this way: If we think of the progression of time and history as a straight line, we can infer that it is set against a larger background (eternity), and headed toward a final end (heaven).

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As a progression, it has a length, but no width.  No two points in time can exist side by side.

Now, imagine trying to give it width.  Mentally attempt to grab the middle of a line by its “edges” and stretch it out like so…

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You have some more width — or something vaguely like it — but what does this “stretching” do to the rest of the line?  It pulls it back in both directions.

I think utopianism and triumphalistic ambitions toward hope do the same thing to us as human beings.

When we invest our hopes in this world, we forget where we came from and where we’re going.  The great progression of history becomes no longer a line, but a mess…like a blob of jelly spread out over the face of eternity.

Again, humility is mandatory in order for hope to be truly hope.  As with Grace, we must acknowledge our dependence on something higher than ourselves.

More than that, we have to acknowledge the fact that our destiny, our fulfillment, our hope lies in something that is beyond our powers — and beyond this world.

And now the curtain opens…we’re ready for Act II!

* Here is a link to one of at least two videos in which Kelly says this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcM7S7Y7r0A

Top photo obtained through a Google image search; others courtesy of Yours Truly.

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