So you might have heard about this new movie that’s out right now. It’s about Wolverine and a prostitute and a lot of people who are so sad all they can do is sing their emotions.
Brace yourselves, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you here: That movie is actually based on a Broadway musical.
I know. I KNOW. And that Broadway musical is actually based on a book, too, but that’s one level deeper into this movie-inception than I want to go.
So this musical called Les Miserableshas always been one of my very, very favorites. I can recite literally every word of the score. Even the weird bits in the middle where they’re sing-talking. Call me a cliché, but I really passionately love this show and everything it espouses.
The first time I saw Les Miserables, I was about ten years old, because I was raised by parents who believed in exposing us early to things that were way beyond our maturity level1. I actually remember the production fairly well, or, more accurately, I remember how it made me feel. I remember saying to my dad at intermission, “This is so great! It looks like everybody’s going to end up happy.” And he snorted and said, “Just wait.” I remember crying at the end. Then the lights came up and there was the MT, four years younger than me, sobbing her little heart out. Theater gets you where you live.
But the thing I remember most about this production is Eponine. Not the actress—I don’t actually remember a thing about her. But the character. At ten, I had yet to experience my first unrequited love, the quest that makes Eponine the everywoman2. But there was something about her that I related to at a very basic level—even at ten years old, I understood this idea of wanting impossible things. And ever since then, I have latched onto Eponine. When I was in my theater days and people would ask me what my “dream role” was3, I always said Eponine. Though I have the musical talent of a goldfish, I was dying to stand on stage in my oversized trench coat, belting On My Own. I did it plenty of times alone in my bedroom, for practice4. For me, Eponine was always my girl because she was so relatable. In the scope of the play, it can be hard to relate to prostitutes and escaped convicts, but there is something so simple about what Eponine wants that we all understand it: she just wants the man she loves to love her back. And I loved her for that.
Then last summer I went with my family to see Les Miserables at our very favorite place, the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I was excited, ready to cheer for my emotional doppelganger, Eponine.
But Eponine came on stage…and she sang all the same songs she usually sang. And did the same things she always does. And died the way she always does. Because this is a play, and things don’t really change much. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t the actress—she was splendid. And it wasn’t Eponine. It was me. Because I wasn’t interested in Eponine anymore. I was absolutely fixated on Enjolras.
This is the moment where you all say, “Who!?”
Enjolras is Marius’s best friend and leader of the doomed barricade revolution. The guy in the gold sparkly vest5. Enjolras, a character whose name I didn’t know until probably my fifth viewing of the show and didn’t know how to pronounce for several more after that6, was suddenly so much more interesting than Eponine, or anyone on stage for that matter. Because he didn’t just pine like Eponine does. He didn’t sulk in the background and sing about how sad he was. He took control of his own life, and the lives of the people around him who were floating along with their fates. He charged forward. He thrust the flag in the air from atop the barricade. He is a rebel with a cause.
And just like that, Eponine was gone, and there was Enjolras.
I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre, which remains my all-time favorite book. When I read it for the first time as a junior in high school, I thought it was so romantic. Rich, handsome man falls for plain, poor girl because she is intelligent and witty. The greatest love story ever told, in my little sixteen year old brain. And I still think that part of it is great. But as I read Jane Eyre for the ninety third time recently, I started to see things about it that my mind had glossed over in the past. Like the fact that Rochester basically mentally abuses Jane for the entire novel, and lies to her, and asks her to compromise all her moral standards for him. And at first she says no, but then she says yes. Which I’m really not okay with. And though I still value Jane for its literary merit and realize we have to read it as a novel of its time, I’ve lost a bit of my attraction to the story of a woman who gives herself so easily and so completely to a man.
What am I saying? I’m saying that we are never aware of ourselves growing up and growing old. We can’t see it happen—one morning, we just look in the mirror and wonder who the person staring back at us is. And so for me, the greatest indicator of my own descent into adulthood comes in the form of the evolution of my tastes. And I’m happy with my choices if they have led me to be attracted to characters in literature who do not compromise, and who move actively in the direction of their own dreams. It makes me think that maybe, I too, have a shot at doing something awesome. Either that, or I will die at a barricade. Which is actually a pretty epic way to go.
- Almost every swear word I know, I learned from Les Miserables. That’s parenting for ya.
- I’m fairly certain even women in stable, committed relationships frequently say, “I am just like Eponine!”
- No one actually asked that much. I just sort of volunteered this information a lot.
- This happened last night.
- And, in this production, totally awesome gauntlets.
- In spite of what my dad thinks, it’s not En-Rolls.