Les Miserables, directed by Billie August

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The epic movie Les Misérables, directed by Billie August, tells the tale of life and exploits of a man named Jean Valjean. Valjean was convicted of stealing food at young age, but after being released from prison and rising through the ranks to become the mayor of Vigo, he finds himself being constantly pursued by one of his ex-prison guards. This man, Javert, is determined to have Valjean locked up once again. During this intense struggle, it becomes easy to see that different people from this time period decide to follow the law in different ways. Throughout this film, Jean Valjean repeatedly chooses to abide by the spirit of the law, while his sworn enemy, Javert, mercilessly enforces the letter of the law.

The spirit of the law and the letter of the law represent two different ways people choose to abide by the law. The spirit of the law means interpreting the law in a way that upholds both the intent of the law and the social contract with the people around you. On the other hand, the letter of the law means following the actual written law to the “T” with no exceptions. For example, by law you must come to a complete stop at any stop sign in California. If you are following the spirit of the law, you understand that the intent of the law is to get you to slow down at the intersection, so you come to a rolling stop, which allows you to slow down while still remaining safe. At the same time, if you are a police officer witnessing this act and you abide by the letter of the law, you will give a ticket to this person because they didn’t fully stop like the law requires. A major difference between the spirit and letter of the law is what needs to be done in order to carry out each interpretation. When dealing with the letter of...

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... mayhem being created by Javert and Valjean’s conflicting views of the law, France is undergoing remarkable changes, a theme that takes up a large part of the end of the film. Les Misérables depicts the Paris Uprising of 1832, a revolution caused by unhappy peasants who had to face, with very little money, rising prices in food and heavy taxes while the rich continued to live the life of luxury. The character of Marius, Cosette’s lover, is depicted as the leader of the revolution. He gives long speeches in town squares to incite excitement in his fellow peasants and plans the initial attack during the funeral procession of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque. After some fighting, the revolutionaries found themselves unable to hold off the French soldiers and their movement was crushed. The French wouldn’t see another revolution for 16 years after this sudden uprising.

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