lunes, 7 de abril de 2014

Villains we love to hate (I): Javert

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I love Les Miserables. You love Les Miserables. Everyone loves Les Miserables, especially after the movie. There are so many things that speak to us about it, the setting, the characters, the songs. Oh, yes. The songs. We might like the rest, but we really, really love the songs.

We hardly ever think about the book. Books don’t have songs, after all. (It’s true that no one told Tolkien this, but that’s another story). But behind that wonderful story, and those wonderful songs, lay the characters Victor Hugo created, and the story that, so many years ago, before I even knew that the musical existed, stole my heart.

How can you not love Jean Valjean? One wrong deed (and such a small thing, in the grand scheme of things), and yet he ends up paying for it tenfold. How can you not love Fantine, the woman who loved too much, tried too hard, and then lost it all? How can you not love Enjolras, the boy who believed in bigger things?

And, at the same time, how can you not hate Javert? He’s the perfect villain: singled-minded and ruthless. In a roundabout way, he’s even responsible for most of the woes that afflict Valjean after leaving jail. He is, after all, so relentless in his pursuit that Valjean, our hero, finds himself fleeing a happy and comfortable life, hiding for years, and then, once discovered, escaping again to protect the one person he loves desperately, Cosette.

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about villains and about Javert in particular. I’ve hated him for a while, the true hate of someone who read the book first, and frankly, ignored him for most of the movie. (I can’t even remember the actor playing Javert the one time I saw the musical). The bad guy wasn’t worth my time, after all.

But there are villains, and then, there are villains. (It scares me to think that this is a conclusion that can only be reached when you’re, gasp, not only well-read, but mature enough).The good ones usually have a backstory. Some of them even find redemption. Others are not really villains, just men and women who, faced with a set of circumstances, did not break from the mold.

There are those characters that, for one reason or another, did not behave like heroes.  

Javert belongs to the last category. He’s, simply put, a good cop. If Valjean had done something truly horrible, then, Javert would be, GASP, the hero of this tale. Except he didn’t. Not in our perception. So, of course, Javert just needs to chill. Perspective, and all that.

Easier said than done.

The beauty of Javert, possibly the most well-rounded character in Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, is that he’s a man of black and whites. We all know people like that. It’s either good, or bad. He isn’t a villain. He’s just doing the right thing. This man stole. Not, only that, after being released, he simply disappeared. The law had branded him a dangerous man, a man who had to be under constant vigilance. And yet this man defied the law. Javert IS the law.

As the song says, the law is not to be mocked.

The theme continues right till the end. Valjean, a character much more equipped to deal in shades of grey, saves Javert from a certain death. In a lesser book, this would cause a change in the character. But some people (and characters) don’t change, can’t change.

In this particular instance, the song says it better than I could, because in the musical, Javert sings:

There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

As simple and as complicated as that. To a man who only understands good and evil, this world cannot hold them both. And, I said before, Javert is not a villain, not in his mind. He’s a man of honor. A man of the law. Except, in this world he finds himself in, there is no law that he can understand, no honor that can appeal to him.

In the absence of those things, there can be no Javert.

I'll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean

It’s someone else’s world now, even if Valjean will never know, never understand. Some bad guys are redeemed, others perish, a few are left to live with regrets. And, yet, others, the best kind, are simply undone by those things that, in our mind, make a hero.

Perhaps, in those cases, we should remember not just the hero. Maybe, what we need is to realize that, sometimes, a hero is only one because the villain allows him to be so, and vice versa.

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