Patrick Craine

Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables: a tarnished gem

Patrick Craine
Patrick Craine
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 Don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead?

As Anne Hathaway cries out the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” in Tom Hooper’s new take on Les Miserables, the audience can feel Fantine’s devastation. The dark grittiness of her chamber, the deep breaths of her violator’s climax, the ringing of the coins, her anguished lament – no feeling person can help but share in the poor woman’s horror.

The scene, in its depravity, is a testament to the sacred character of the sexual act, one grace-filled moment in a film that serves as a grand witness to the sacred, the truth of human dignity, the joy brought by Christian conversion, and religion’s power as a force for good in society. In fact, the film acts as an apologia for a vigorous Christianity, rooted in faith rather than sentimentalism, for it is plain that Valjean’s many good deeds are founded in a deep life of prayer.

Yet this two-and-a-half-hour gem is tarnished by a four-minute comedic romp in the first quarter of the film. A mere twenty minutes after the filmmakers have cultivated a visceral appreciation for the evil of prostitution through Fantine’s devastation, we’re taken to the Thenardiers’ brothel for what could only be described as a celebration of the very same evil.

The scene depicts a kind and gentle Santa, decked out in miter and robe, lured into the brothel as he hands out gifts to children. He quickly begins necking with a prostitute and moments later we’re shocked with a two-second shot of the two jubilantly fornicating in the room upstairs: “Oh Santa!” the woman pants. As the song ends, we see Santa stumble out and pulled pants-less across the screen by his reindeer.

Of course, the Thenardiers’ brothel is repulsive in its own way, so the scene as a whole doesn’t necessarily come off as celebrating prostitution. But it becomes a celebration as we are meant to derive humor from Santa’s lark.

Fantine’s scene is beautiful in its wretchedness, bright in its darkness, sacred in its depravity. But this two-second, wholly gratuitous sex scene is dirty in its frivolity and sickening in its jubilation. Through the visual and auditory cues, we are told to laugh as Santa – the season’s picture of goodness, generosity and even a certain jolly innocence – is morally corrupted. Because we’re meant to find all of this funny, the scene wars against the story’s profoundly Christian ethos.

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On a symbolic level, the scene even seems to subvert the film’s overall message of spiritual conversion. The Bishop of Digne, who buys back Valjean’s soul with the gift of candlesticks, is the very symbol of conversion – so much so that in the end the film depicts him welcoming Valjean’s soul into heaven. A bishop restores Valjean’s appreciation of his own dignity, allowing Valjean to in turn bestow the same appreciation on Fantine, Cosette, and others. Yet in the scene with Santa, we have a miter-wearing image of St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra, taking the exactly opposite path.

Despite the symbolism, the scene is so radically dissonant from the film’s overall Christian ethos that it seems it could not be a conscious effort at subversion. The filmmakers went out of their way to amplify the story’s Christian significance – think of Valjean’s gift of a Rosary to Javert, the beautiful shots of crucifixes bathed in light, or the profound depiction of Valjean’s entry into heaven in the final scene. In interviews, Hugh Jackman and Tom Hooper related that they had gone back to Victor Hugo’s novel to capture its spiritual depth.

So is there a certain schizophrenia here in the filmmakers and the audience-at-large? How else to explain that we could be so moved by the conversion story, that we could mourn with Fantine, and yet laugh at Santa’s spiritual corruption?

Rather, I think we have to describe it as a failure of wisdom, a failure to grasp the deeper realities at work in the story. Les Miserables can only be understood with a thoroughly Christian worldwiew, and the Santa scene is evidence that the filmmakers, despite their good intentions and technical mastery, missed it. They simply did not grasp the full import of the story’s ethos – that true conversion always entails a commitment to sexual purity. I would suggest that, caught up in our cultural attachment to sexual frivolity and Hollywood’s obsession with sexual humour, the filmmakers and general audience simply don’t have the eyes to see that this silly sex scene is so radically out of place.

Still, none of us are surprised that it’s there. Whether or not such a scene ruins the film for us, I think we all ought to at least marvel that Hollywood was able to produce so profoundly Christian a film. Though the gem is tarnished, the Gospel still shines through.

Get updates from Patrick Craine, LSN's Canadian Bureau Chief, on Facebook and Twitter.

 
 

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‘It’s a miracle’: Newborn girl survives two days after being abandoned in a field

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

The survival of a baby who was abandoned by her mother and left in a field for two days has been described as "a miracle" by the doctor attending the newborn girl.

"She had been left alone naked, and weighed less than a kilogram, in part because she was so severely dehydrated," said Doctor Barbara Chomik at the hospital in the northern Polish city of Elblag, according to a report from Central European News.

"It is a miracle that she survived under those conditions for so long. It is simply a miracle," Dr. Chomik said.

The report said that the child's mother, Jolanta Czarnecka, 30, of Ilawa in northeastern Poland, had concealed her pregnancy from friends and fellow workers, and had given birth in a field during a lunch break, then returned to work.

When blood was noticed on her clothing, the woman at first claimed she had accidentally given birth in the toilet and the baby had gone down the drain.

However, when investigation found no evidence supporting her claims, Czarnecka admitted to having given birth to the child in a nearby field and leaving her there.

When searchers found the child, two days after her birth, the little girl was dehydrated and covered with insects.

Czarnecka is facing charges of attempted murder for allegedly abandoning her child.

Czarnecka, who has entered a not guilty plea to the charges against her, could be sentenced to five years in prison if she is convicted.


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Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

To the Christians who think 50 Shades is all sorts of awesome: Please, stop and THINK

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By Jonathon van Maren

It’s pretty depressing when you realize that, in 2014, many people seem to think that destruction of human dignity is a small price to pay for an orgasm.

I suppose when I write a column about a book that just sold its 100 millionth copy I shouldn’t be surprised when I get a bit of a kickback. But I have to say—I wasn’t expecting hundreds of commenters, many saying they were Christian, to come out loudly defending the porn novel 50 Shades of Grey, often tastelessly interspersed with details from their own sex lives.

People squawked that we “shouldn’t judge” those who practice bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM), and informed me that “no one gets hurt” and that it “isn’t abuse” and said that it was “just fantasy” (as if we have a separate brain and body for fantasy).

Meanwhile, not a single commenter addressed one of the main arguments I laid out—that with boys watching violent porn and girls being socialized to accept violence and torture inside of a sexual relationship, we have created a toxic situation in which people very much are being hurt.

In response to the defenders of this trash, let me make just a few points.

  1. Not all consent is equal.

People keep trumpeting this stupid idea that just because someone consents to something or allows something to happen, it isn’t abusive.

But if someone consents to being beaten up, punched, slapped, whipped, called disgusting and degrading names, and have other things done to them that I will choose not to describe here, does that make it any less abusive? It makes it legal (perhaps, but it certainly doesn’t make it any less disgusting or violent.

Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey? If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.

Anyone who works with victims of domestic and sexual assault will tell you that just because someone permits something to happen or doesn’t extricate themselves from a situation doesn’t mean it isn’t, in fact, abuse. Only when it comes to sex are people starting to make this argument, so that they can cling to their fetishes and justify their turn-ons. Those women who defend the book because they think it spiced up their sex life are being incredibly selfish and negligent, refusing to think about how this book could affect other women in different situations, as well as young and impressionable girls.

In the words of renowned porn researcher and sociologist Dr. Gail Dines:

In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Christian [Grey of 50 Shades of Grey] is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.

The most likely real-world ending of Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of black and blue. The awful truth in the real world is that women who partner with a Christian Grey often end up hightailing it to a battered women's shelter with traumatized kids in tow. The less fortunate end up in graveyards.

  1. 50 Shades of Grey normalizes intimate partner violence…

…and sickeningly, even portrays it as romantic and erotic. Amy Bonomi, Lauren Altenburger, and Nicole Walton published an article on the impact of 50 Shades last year in the Journal of Women’s Health. Their conclusions are intuitive and horrifying:

While intimate partner violence (IPV) affects 25% of women and impairs health, current societal conditions—including the normalization of abuse in popular culture such as novels, film, and music—create the context to support such violence.

Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking (Christian deliberately follows Anastasia and appears in unusual places, uses a phone and computer to track Anastasia’s whereabouts, and delivers expensive gifts); intimidation (Christian uses intimidating verbal and nonverbal behaviors, such as routinely commanding Anastasia to eat and threatening to punish her); and isolation (Christian limits Anastasia’s social contact). Sexual violence is pervasive—including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation (Christian initiates sexual encounters when genuinely angry, dismisses Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and threatens her). Anastasia experiences reactions typical of abused women, including: constant perceived threat (“my stomach churns from his threats”); altered identity (describes herself as a “pale, haunted ghost”); and stressful managing (engages in behaviors to “keep the peace,” such as withholding information about her social whereabouts to avoid Christian’s anger). Anastasia becomes disempowered and entrapped in the relationship as her behaviors become mechanized in response to Christian’s abuse.

Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.

  1. Really? Sadism?

I notice that commenters rarely break down what the acronym “BDSM” actually stands for: bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. If they did, they could no longer make the repulsive claim that “love” or “intimacy” have anything to do with it.

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The definition of sadism is “enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain, especially sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone…a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others.”

As one of my colleagues noted, we used to send sadists to a therapist or to prison, not to the bedroom. And 100 million copies of this porn novel have been unleashed on our society informing people that getting off on hurting someone is romantic and erotic. It is a brutal irony that people who scream about water-boarding terrorists are watching and experimenting with sexual practices far more brutal. As one porn researcher noted, some online BDSM porn promotes practices and behaviors that would be considered unlawful under the Geneva Convention if they were taking place in a wartime context.

It seems the Sexual Revolutionaries have gone from promoting “safe sex” to “safe words”—just in case the pain gets too rough. And none of them seem to be volunteering information on just how a woman is supposed to employ a safe word with a gag or bondage headgear on.

But who cares, right? Just one more casualty on our culture’s new Sexual Frontier.

  1. “It’s just fiction and fantasy and has no effect on the real world!”

That’s total garbage and they know it. I’ve met multiple girls who were abused like this inside of relationships. Hotels are offering “50 Shades of Grey” packages replete with the helicopter and private suites for the proceedings. According to the New York Post, sales of rope exploded tenfold after the release of the book. Babeland reported that visits to the bondage section of their website spiked 81%, with an almost 30% increase in the sale of things like riding crops and handcuffs.

I could go on, but I won’t. As Babeland co-founder Claire Cavanah noted, “It’s like a juggernaut. You’d be surprised to see how very ordinary these people are who are coming in. The book is just an explosion of permission for them to try something new in the bedroom.”

  1. What does this book and the BDSM movement say about the value of women and girls?

I’d like the defenders of this book to try stop thinking with their nether-regions for just a moment and ask themselves a few simple questions: What does sadism and sexual torture (consensual or not) say to our culture about the value of girls? What does it say to boys about how they should treat girls? The youth of today are inundated with porn and sexually violent material—is nobody—nobody—at all worried about the impact this has on them? On the girls who are being abused by boys who think this is normal behavior—and think it is normal themselves?

Dr. Gail Dines relates that when speaking to groups of women who loved the book, they all grow deathly silent when she asks them two simple questions: Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey?

If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.

__

This book and the sadism it promotes are an assault on human dignity, and most of all an assault on the worth and value of girls and women. Please consider the impact you will have on your daughters and the vulnerable and confused people around you when you read and promote this book. Anastasia Steele is, thankfully, a fictional character. But real girls are facing these expectations and demands from a culture that elevates a sexual sadist to the level of a romantic hero. Ask yourselves if you want their “love” and “intimacy” to include sadism and domination, or real respect.

Because you can’t have both.

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Ryan T. Anderson

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New York Times reporter: ‘Anti-LGBT’ people ‘deserve’ incivility

Ryan T. Anderson
By Ryan Anderson

As I recounted Monday at The Daily Signal, The New York Times reporter Josh Barro thinks some people are “unworthy of respect.” Yesterday Barro doubled-down and tweeted back at me that “some people are deserving of incivility.” He argued that I am such a person because of my views about marriage policy. You can see the entire exchange on my twitter page.

What Josh Barro says or does doesn’t really affect me. I’m not a victim, and I’ll keep doing what I do. But incivility, accepted and entrenched, is toxic to a political community. Indeed, civility is essential for political life in a pluralistic society.

It also has deep roots.

The Hebrew Bible tells us that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and have a profound and inherent dignity. Sound philosophy comes to a similar conclusion: as rational beings capable of freedom and love, all human beings have intrinsic and inestimable worth. And so we should always treat people with respect and dignity—we should honor their basic humanity. We should always engage with civility—even when we sharply disagree with them. Faith and reason, the natural law and the divine law, both point to the same conclusion.

Just as I think the best of theology and philosophy point to the conclusion that we should always treat people with respect, so I think they show that marriage is the union of a man and a woman—and that redefining marriage will undermine the political common good.

The work that I’ve done for the past few years for The Heritage Foundation has been at the service of explaining why I think this to be the case. Bookish by nature, I thought the best contribution I could make to public life was to help us think about marriage. So while my early work after college was in philosophy and bioethics, and my graduate coursework was in the history of political philosophy, I put my dissertation about economic and social justice on hold so I could devote myself to this debate at this crucial time.

Along with my co-authors, a classmate of mine from Princeton and a professor of ours there, we set out to write a book making what we considered the best philosophical argument for what marriage is and why it matters. Our book seemed to help the Supreme Court think about the issue, as Justice Samuel Alito cited it twice. The reason I’ve written various and sundry policy papers for Heritage, and traveled across the country speaking on college campuses, and appeared on numerous news shows (including, of course, Piers Morgan) is that I know the only way forward in our national debate about marriage is to make the arguments in as reasonable and civil a spirit as possible.

Some people, like Barro, want to do everything they can to shut down this discussion. They want to demonize those who hold contrary viewpoints. They want to equate us with racists and claim we are unworthy of respect and ought to be treated with incivility. This is how bullies behave. In all of recorded history, ours is the first time where we can have open and honest conversations about same-sex attraction and marriage. This discussion is just beginning. It is nowhere near being over.

All our fellow citizens, including those identifying as LGBT, should enjoy the full panoply of civil rights—the free exercise of religion, freedoms of speech and press, the right to own property and enter into contracts, the right to vote and have a fair trial, and every other freedom to live as they choose, consistent with the common good.

Government redefinition of marriage, however, is not a civil right—nor will redefining marriage serve the common good. Indeed, redefining marriage will have negative consequences.

We make our arguments, in many fora, as transparently as possible. We welcome counterarguments. And we strive to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve as we carry on this conversation.

One of the most unfortunate parts of my exchange with Barro last night was his reaction toward those who identify as LGBT and aspire to lives of chastity. They freely choose to live by their conviction that sex is reserved for the marital bond of a husband and wife. Some of them also seek professional help in dealing with and perhaps even diminishing (not repressing) their same-sex sexual desires.

I have written in their defense and against government coercion that would prevent them from receiving the help they desire, as New Jersey and California have done. Barro describes my support for their freedom as “sowing misery…doing a bad thing to people…making the world worse.”

There really is anti-LGBT bigotry in the world. But Barro does a disservice to his cause when he lumps in reasonable debates about marriage policy and the pastoral care that some same-sex attracted persons voluntarily seek out as, in his words, “anti-LGBT.” If we can’t draw a line between real bigotry and reasonable disagreement, we’re not helping anyone.

This debate isn’t about restricting anyone’s personal freedom. However it goes, people will remain free to live their romantic lives as they choose. So too people who experience same-sex attraction but aspire to chastity should be free to lead their lives in line with their beliefs, and to seek out the help they desire. We can have a civil conversation about which course of action is best—but let’s leave aside the extremism.

Barro asks, “Why shouldn’t I call you names?” My answer is simple: you should not practice the disdain and contempt you claim to abhor.

All my life, I’ve been educated at left-leaning institutions. Most of my friends disagree with me about these issues. But they’re still friends. And their feedback has made me a better person.

My final tweet to Barro is where I still remain committed: “people on all sides of LGBT debates and marriage debates need to find a way to discuss these issues without demonizing anyone.”

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Signal, where you can find Ryan Anderson's Twitter exchange with Barro.


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