Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Valjean vs. Javert: Who's more Miserables?

Hey, so who out there likes wildly unpopular opinions? I do! Well, maybe it's not wildly unpopular, most people probably haven't thought about it. Given the success of Les Miserables however, I'm going to at least assume you disagree with me. Here you have it:

Inspector Javert was a better person that Jean Valjean.

I'm serious! We all give Valjean a ton of street cred because the book/musical/show's pretty much about his life story, but when you step back and take a look at the thing analytically? Let's break down their Bios and see if you disagree with me:


BACKSTORY:

Valjean:
- Born in 1769
- Poor beginnings.
- Had a sister, but otherwise an orphan.
- A physical beast. We know this because we get told over and over again how much of a freak he is, both strength and agility-wise.

Javert:
- Born in 1780
- His mother was a fortune teller and presumably a criminal of some kind.
- His father was a galley convict.
- HE WAS BORN IN A FREAKING PRISON!!!

Can we talk about this for a minute? Look at the facts: Valjean actually starts out with better life prospects than Javert. I mean... can you start lower than beginning your life in jail? Yet somehow Javert says "Screw this, I'm fighting my way to the top!" Meanwhile Valjean  gets all "Boo hoo, I'm hungry" and resorts to theft.

EDGE: JAVERT


LIFE CHOICES:

Valjean:
Original Occupation: Pruner and Thief.
    - Yes, he stole because he needed food since there wasn't a lot of work, but I think there's an argument to be made that his first occupation led to his second.

Trying to escape from prison... 4 TIMES.
    - I don't think this point can be stated with enough emphasis. Valjean spent 19 years in prison. 19 years for a B&E? That's outrageous! Heck, even the French agree  that's why they only gave him a 5 year sentence! Maybe a 5 year sentence is a little harsh but if he'd just sucked it up he would have been 31 when he got out, which is still a decent age. Instead he got 3 years tacked on each time he ran away, plus 2 for resisting arrest. Dude, stop running away! It's not working! Just eat your medicine for crying out loud.

Recidivism
    - So Valjean has finally gotten out of prison, then has one bad experience as a worker and immediately steals silverware from the Bishop. The Bishop of all things! You couldn't have just punched a cop or something? Geez Murphy, not a quick learner. But at least he...
    - Learns his lesson. We've all seen the musical, where the Bishop gifts him the silver and tells him to be a better man so he takes the lesson to heart and goes off and reinvents himself, right? Wrong. The part they don't show you in the musical happens after leaving the Bishop, when he encounters a young boy walking down the road and tossing a coin in the air (presumably to buy a gigantic lollipop). The kid drops it and Valjean responds by stepping on it and telling the kid he'll beat him senseless if he doesn't run away (which he does). THAT'S when Valjean realizes he's a monster and changes his life. So... good job by you. But it won't buy that kid his lollipop.

Calls Napoleon "The Emperor" at his trial instead of "Bonaparte"
    - This was a really, really bad idea in 1815.

Pays for Cosette when he had a note authorizing him to take her for free.
    - Huh?

Javert:
Original Occupation: Assistant Prison Guard.
    - What did he put on his resume? "Prior Experience: Born here?" "I was born to do this job?" The possibilities are endless. At least he was smart enough to choose a recession-proof occupation.

Offs himself because he can't reconcile a world where someone can be a good person but still a criminal.
    - Oy... someone's got unresolved mommy issues. The guy really needed to chill out more; all work and no play makes Javert a dull boy.

EDGE: JAVERT


TENACITY:

Valjean:
Constant Escape Attempts
    - Well you really can't argue this one. Tries to escape 4 times during his original sentence, actually escapes successfully when he's arrested as Mayor. Moves around constantly to stay hidden from Javert. Plus two counts of Resisting Arrest. Love him or hate him the guy knows what he wants, and that's not prison.

Javert:
Wants Criminals in Jail
    - He chases down Valjean for roughly 10 years, not to mention volunteering to go undercover at the barricades in order to save the lives of French soldiers (even though he'd likely be killed if the rebels realized who he was). Love him or hate him the guy knows what he wants, and that's bad dudes in prison.

EDGE: TIE


HONOURABILITY:
Let's just run through the list for each:

Valjean:
PROS:
- Arranges a job at a convent for the guy who got stuck under the cart in the street. Which seems a bit weird but whatever.
- Turns himself in so that another guy doesn't go to jail for his crimes (although he immediately escapes because hey, it's not like he wants to go to jail for his crimes).
- Impresses the guys on the barricade with a great shot but avoids actually killing anyone.
    - So if you're keeping track at home he's a strongman, an acrobat, and a sharpshooter. He also revitalizes the industry of an entire town and becomes Mayor in one year. Yeah, this guy had NO choice but a life of crime.
Doesn't shoot Javert in the face at the barricade. Which is nice.
- Rescues Marius. By the way, Marius had just killed a bunch of French soldiers. For a moment consider that these were guys who probably kissed their wife and kids goodbye when they went off to work that morning, but never came home because of some drunk college kids who blocked a street. But hey, the guy had a thing for Cosette so what's Valjean to do? (Little known fact: Les Mis doesn't take place during the French Revolution)
- Keeps his promise to Fantine and raises Cosette.

CONS:
- Steals from a family.
- Escapes from jail.
- Escapes from jail.
- Escapes from jail.
- Escapes from jail and assaults a police officer.
- Robs a Bishop.
- Threatens to beat up a kid for a penny.
- Steals the kid's penny.
- Doesn't pay attention to the working conditions at his factory.
- Tells Javert he'll go quietly, then...
    - Escapes from jail again.
- Joins a revolutionary movement.
- Stops visiting Cosette once she gets married. I have no idea why.
- Arguably ruins Fantine's life.

I'm going to punch up that last point a little. Fantine wasn't doing so well, what with her boyfriend leaving her knocked up and taking off, but she was getting by because of her job at Valjean's factory. Unfortunately the foreman at the factory wanted a piece of Fantine, she won't give it to him, and everyone knew it. So when some total shrew co-workers get into it with her there's the possibility of major conflict.

Fortunately Valjean gets there before the foreman! Valjean to the rescue! Aaaaand he says screw this, you deal with it Mr. Foreman. Which leads to her getting canned because Valjean has zero awareness of what's going on at his factory and/or doesn't care.

HOWEVER: In the book Valjean never knows about the incident even though Fantine blames him for it, so we need to mitigate this point a bit in Valjean's favour. One way or another though, the inactions of Jean Valjean leads to Fantine becoming a prostitute and selling her hair, as well as her two front teeth. I bet you didn't know that part! Needless to say, I think we can all agree why that's been left out of the modern adaptations of the book:


Shit... even without teeth Anne Hathaway is still attractive.

Javert:
PROS:
- Dude REALLY hates people who break the law.
- When he thinks he's mistakenly accused Mayor Madeleine (actually Valjean, and no he's not in drag) of being Valjean he tenders his resignation as an inspector, because an inspector must be above reproach.
- Continues to pursue Valjean because he's never, ever been given anything to suggest Valjean is something other than a crook.
- The aforementioned undercover actions at the barricades despite the risk to his life.
- Let's Valjean go when he finally finds out that Valjean isn't the bad dude he thought he was.
- Never breaks the law until he lets Valjean go at the end. Although he makes up for it by killing himself?

CONS:
- Doesn't really "chase down the facts" as much as he should. CSI: Paris this ain't.
- Suuuuper inflexible morally.

SLIGHT EDGE: JAVERT


SUMMARY:

Well I never said it wasn't going to be close, but I think it's pretty hard to argue that Valjean didn't lead a life where he pretty much did whatever was right for Valjean at the time, punctuated by some good acts in his later years. Contrast that with Javert, who basically tried to be a good human being his entire life, if a somewhat shortsighted one.



COMPLETE TANGENT:
How is it that every culture on the planet (except for those wacky Germans) seems to have independently discovered shaving? It's not like they had the technology to make razors or mirrors back then. Instead you've got some guy with a brass broadsword trying to shave himself in a mudpuddle, all the while hoping he doesn't accidentally cut off his own head.

I think the only logical conclusion is that the women of every culture on the planet (except for those wacky Germans) independently decided men look better without beards.

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