Two Candlesticks…Two Towers…Jean Valjean & Inspector Javert (Les Miserables)

Les Miserables

Two Candlesticks…Two Pillars

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                Early on in the movie of Les Miserables, Jean Valjean one of the main characters of whom I previously wrote, is arrested.  He is brought before this kind-hearted bishop who cared for him.  The officers say, “We’ve caught this man red-handed, he said you gave him these.”  Referring to a bag full of silver that you the audience know he stole.

However, the bishop responds not in the way we would expect.  He responds in a way that I imagine very, very few would.  He says to the officers:

That is right.

But my friend you left so early

Surely something slipped your mind

You forgot I gave these also;

Would you leave the best behind?

                It is at these words that he hands Valjean two candlesticks.  Which carries some significance in Victor Hugo’s book.  These candlesticks were handed down to him through his family.  It was dearly valued to him so it was of great sacrifice that he gave these to Valjean, the thief.

In the film you see these two candlesticks repeatedly on several occasions.  You see them when he struggles with whether or not to turn himself in.  You see them when Javert searches his room.  You see them when Cosette questions him about his past.  You see them when he dies.

In churches around the world, you can see two candlesticks on the altar.  These two candlesticks are lit only on Communion Sundays.  Now, there are various symbolisms to be seen within these candles.  Some say that the two candles represent the two natures of Christ.  That Jesus is both God and man.  Some say that the two candles represent the visible and invisible elements in the Lord’s Supper.  Perhaps it simply could represent the means of Grace as found in word and sacrament.

However, in the context of the film Les Miserables these candles seem to represent the two contrasting characters of Javert and Jean Valjean.  This is seen especially well when Javert is about to sing, “Stars”.  You see him gaze look upon Valjean’s altar with its two candlesticks.  But seconds later, he turns to face the Cathedral of Notre Dame which is notable for its two towers.  (This also is a nod to Victor Hugo who wrote both Les Miserables and The Hunchback from Notre Dame.)

The theme of Stars is how Javert views the division between himself and Valjean.  He sees himself as the one follows the path of the righteous and Valjean as the one who follows the path of Lucifer.

It is in this that I see the distinction of Law and Gospel represented in the candlesticks, the two towers, and these two men.  Javert is not an evil man, as we would normally think.  He isn’t after Valjean as an act of ill will.  He isn’t being necessarily petty.  From his ardent conviction, he believes that Valjean is a wretched criminal that belongs behind bars.  He doesn’t wish to kill Valjean, he wants him in jail.

If it were about vengeance, Javert would desire Valjean’s death.  It isn’t to him it is about justice.  As I’d stated in my post about Javert, he is the one that tries to walk the line.  He is the one that lives 100% by the law.

Valjean on the other hand is a man full of grace and mercy.  He cares for Fantine.  He saves a man crushed by a wagon.  He cares for Cosette at great personal cost.  He cares for Marius after he is wounded in battle.  He spares the life of Javert when he has the perfect opportunity to kill him.

Javert tries to keep the law and fails.  He falls into despair and takes his own life.  Valjean lives, knowing that he is a wretch.  Yet, he lives constantly in the mercy and grace of God.  He frequently gazes upon the crucifix upon his altar.

It is on the cross that every man is given grace and forgiveness.  It is because of the cross that Valjean can pray, “Forgive me my trespasses, and lead me to your glory.”

It is a wonderful contrast of a theologian of glory or a man who believes he can achieve righteousness by fulfillment of God’s law, and a theologian of the cross or a man who knows he achieves righteousness on account of God’s gift to him.  (see my blogs on Javert & Valjean for further reference)

The theologian of glory will always ultimately end in despair.  They will ultimately come to the truth and realization that they cannot fully keep the law.  “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”[1]

Therefore, if it is the righteous, the one who never sins that will receive salvation.  All are doomed.  For the truth is that no one is righteous, not even one.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[2]

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[3]  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[4]  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[5]

Javert lived in despair and took his life because he found the truth that he couldn’t follow the path of the righteous as he saw it.  Valjean lived at the feet of the cross always carrying his rosary with him.  He was frequently in prayer humbly praying to God.  In his dying moments he prays for forgiveness and delivery to God’s glory.  In the film his prayer is answered.

The film is the story of two lights or of two pillars.  One is the light of the law, that eventually flickered out.  One is the light of the Gospel that brought an eternal light.

FURTHER READING:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables directed by Thomas Hooper

The Character of Valjean

The Character of Javert

The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel by C. F. W. Walther


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Jn 1:8, 10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Rom. 3:11, 23

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 5:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Jn 1:9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Jn 2:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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