‘To love another person is to see the face of God’ – Victor Hugo
This last lingering lyric from the dying scene of Les Miserables has been haunting me ever since I saw the movie version a couple of weeks ago.
It was performed powerfully by a strong cast (of course having Hugh Jackman as the lead certainly helps!) and IMHO the whole production was excellent (Anne Hathaway did a wonderful job).
Victor Hugo’s classic, brought alive by the music we’ve come to know from hugely successful stage productions, is such a compelling story of hope and redemption, made even more formidable by the sheer oppressiveness of the era in which it is set. If hope could survive on the mean streets of Paris in the early 1800’s then you can believe it can survive in even the harshest slums that persist in the third world today.
The sad irony of course is that hope has not conquered poverty or greed or hatred and barricades continue to divide and oppress almost 300 years later.
But still in that last lyric the power of love seems all-conquering, and in the final riffs of hope that rise from beyond the barricade, there is an unshakable faith that a tomorrow will come and it will better – if we can only love other people and thus see the face of God.
I’m no literary or film critic but I feel compelled to try to unpack the immense power and beauty of that lyric – I think it will become my favourite quote ever, or for a long time at least.
In giving the gift of our love we get to see God. A pretty good deal I reckon. And in being loved by someone else, we get to be seen as God. Again, a pretty great deal. We get to look in the mirror and see the face of God in our own reflection if only we love like God.
There is nothing to be lost in this divine view of love – no broken hearts, no unrequited feelings, no heartache, no divorce.
How could we not love another person, or other people, when in doing so we are seeing (and loving God)? How could we not allow ourselves to be loved in such a holy relationship?
This love has a higher purpose – it compels us to treat each other as we would God, to be loved as though God was in us (and He is), to love others as though God were in them (and He is). This love completely dissolves any notion of separation. It puts an end to inhumanity and offers the promise of eternal life. Love, as Fantine sings, is indeed everlasting.
Even if you don’t believe in religion, there remains the hope that this kind of love never ends.
And then I go to see Life of Pi earlier this week and love and God are revealed in different ways.
God is all-powerful, He demands complete faith, surrender. To me this God is the familiar deity of the Christian religion, mighty, up on high. But as the story progresses, God also reveals Himself as the creator and master of all beauty and wonder. And once again the notion of separateness is dissolved in a sense of oneness, in the love that Pi eventually feels for a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, who he credits with saving his life. Pi comes face to face with God as he looks into the dying eyes of a fearsome predator and finds the will to survive.
Mother Nature, in God’s hands is equally the star, alongside Suraj Sharma and a Bengal Tiger in this beautifully filmed and crafted movie – She is revealed at both her most brutal and most beautiful, two sides of the same nature.
At the end we are asked to choose which story, and what God, we want to believe in – a human story of brutality and survival, or a divine story of faith and endurance. A God of power and might or a God (or universe) of eternal love.
I’m immensely grateful for the creative gifts of Victor Hugo and Yann Martel and all those who brought their stories to life. The divine power of universal creation must be working through them.
Life and logistics with a two year old mean we seldom get to the cinema these days (certainly not for an adult movie like Les Miserables), so to see two movies in two weeks that stimulate and delight makes me feel lucky.
Go and see these movies if you haven’t already and you get a chance. I suspect you may well love them, and so see the face of God.