Les Miserables Too Tough for Dirty Harry?

William Faulkner said most of his work dealt with the human heart in conflict with itself. Victor Hugo dealt with the heart beaten, chained, trampled, stalked, debased, lascerated. Then he got to the conflicted parts.

As in great literature, so it is with this human race.

The human heart is one fine, complicated, beautiful mess of a world all its own. It breaks easily, heals stronger than it was, craves and repels love, fools the hell out of us, and defies all poets who’ve tried to harvest its every field. It is a fool’s errand, walking this life with such a heart. It’s also the very best thing about being alive.

A heart is a land that ages only as its owner allows. Anger burns holes in it. Scorches its ground. Malice swamps it in a cold-water hell. But a radical love cuts into it, lets a warming overtake the place. It keeps a human soul growing, young and well, with the dew on it, and the June sun always rising.

Les Miserables confirms all this, with a sweep so great, you think it impossible that such a tale sprang from just one imagination. The latest life of Mr. Hugo’s great novel on screen exposes his unruly, revolutionary, grace-filled heart anew. He clearly grasped that every soul is destined harbor rocks and snakes and human devils, and that outrageous love is a heart’s only worthy blade to plow them out. Only such love can turn our ground and grow us into something fit and worthy to carry on.

I dig the Dirty Harry movies, but for raw survival, fire-tempered strength, and the will to live, Hugo is an original macho man. Dirty Harry, sure, whipped his scoundrels by the shorthairs on the streets. Most of them died mercifully fast. But Hugo — he drilled his people into the streets. They live a long-suffered hell under thoroughfare’s of the slums, way beneath the blood of fisticuffs running out doorways of the upper crust, even the higher poor. Dirty Harry might turn Kardashian if you chained him to Hugo’s Miserables.

Hugo dared to break strong men and women with a rod of human indifference, scatter their pulp in sewers of inhumanity, then remake them. He loved to plow them out of the lowest swamps. To read him is to live reminded even the most hopeless harbor hope, and are fit vessels of grace. In Hugo’s world, any of us can ride upward, pulled out of the cold dark on the stout blade of that cosmic love.

“Feeling lucky, punk?” Harry asked. Hugo might answer, “Keep your luck, Harry. I’m not afraid to live without it.”

None of us need be.


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