empathy machines

First of all, Julia over at Pages of Julia reviewed the movie of Les Miserables.

Of course, I commented, at length. 🙂

I did manage to restrain myself, though. I could have gone on and on, mentioning that Orson Welles had his first big success on radio with a seven-point adaptation of Les Miserables (where he wrote the script, directed it, and starred as Jean Valjean, of course). Or I could have talked about…


Kristan Hoffman wrote an excellent post about “How a story starts,” about building a story around one real, powerful moment.

Of course I commented using Les Miserables, as an example, including how when Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” singing about all the things that women still suffer today, two centuries later (as she pointed out when she accepted the Oscar), and I’m bawling like a baby — that makes me tend to forgive a lot of annoying camerawork, and some of the less-than-stellar singing of some of her co-stars.

But in the show itself, the key moment for me, the moment that everything else serves to get us to, is this one, where Javert is at the mercy of Valjean, and Valjean lets him go, explaining that Javert has always been wrong about him, and about their relationship to each other.

Speaking of movies, I saw this very interesting article: “Michael Sheen enters row about showing films in class

Now, obviously showing films in a class can be lazy teaching, but films can teach us a lot of things.

To quote Sheen’s comments:

“The American film critic Roger Ebert once described films as ‘empathy machines’. They can allow us to see the world through the eyes of others, experience other cultures, other viewpoints, other lives. And, crucially, not just get an intellectual understanding but actually feel what it’s like.”

My mother’s lifetime encompassed pretty much the entire history of film as a commercial medium, and she used to say that there’s nothing like movies. We used to get together on Saturday nights for dinner, always followed by a movie on DVD. We’d watch the movie, and then we’d have coffee and talk about it.

Only once was she so affected by a movie that she had trouble talking about it for a few minutes after it ended — that was Les Miserables.

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