Sometime in high school, (right around the time I started performing with American Kids) I became obsessed with musicals. I had many favorites (one of the top ones being Phantom of the Opera) but by far the winner in my book was Les Miserables. I was so enamored with this musical that I checked out the dilapidated 1000 page text from our tiny school library and bullied my way through it. Let me tell you: that is a hard book to push through, even as obsessed as I was with the story. There were beautiful parts, yes, but there was also a lot of French Revolution politics that I had no clue about, and French is not really my language anyway, and a lot of the context was hard to understand. But still, I made myself finish it, and as a reward for being the first one to check out the book in decades, the librarian let me keep it. (I still have it. Used it as a prop in a musical I was in)
As everyone is likely to do, I picked a character I identified with. Not the love interest, of course, that was too easy. Too pure of heart and unrealistic for me to model after. No, no one but the tragic Queen of Unrequited Love would do, Eponine. I lived and breathed the words of every bit and major part she sung, but especially On My Own. It was an anthem of sorts: I never expected to be anything but lonely anyway, and at least she had someone to dream after, and later give her life for. What can I say, I was a teenager, and Eponine was a self-centered teenager's tragic heroine. All she wanted was love, and she gave everything up for love, only to briefly glimpse it at the end. Beautiful and poetic.
There were other songs that I dearly loved as well. The rallying notes of Enjolras and the other revolutionaries stirred by blood, and Thernardier and Mme. Thernardier were delightfully sinful. And of course, I Dreamed a Dream was heart-wrenching as well, but I realize now I just never really understood it. Intellectually, I could imagine having loved, and lost, and regretting having your innocence stolen, but it was a concept that was as distant to me as playing the Leading Lady. I had never before experienced first love, childbirth, or even sex before, and how devastatingly powerful each of these is on the heart. Fantine's story was sad, yes, but I was convinced Eponine was the true tragic heroine.
Tonight I watched the movie of Les Miserable for the first time. I hadn't really listened to or thought of this musical in 11 or 12 years. After all, I was living my own, very real love story and there was no need to bury myself in borrowed emotions. I went in with high hopes: I knew the downfalls of the original musical (really, does anyone just talk in this world? Without bursting into song?) and was prepared to just immerse myself in the story and fall in love with it once again. Maybe even relive a bit of my adolescence.
What happened took me by surprise. The character of Eponine had lost almost all of her glamour. I still indulged in singing along with On My Own, and the actress herself did a decent job, but the part of Fantine just absolutely blew me away. Part of it I'm sure was the talent of Anne Hathaway. I have yet to see her fudge any role that she has taken. More than anything though, I viewed her character through the lens of age and experience. Now that I have children, I could feel the pain and desperation as she gave everything she could to ensure the life of her child. A child, that most likely drove away her first love, that she gave up her entire life to give everything to. A child that she loved unconditionally because she was innocent. I knew without a doubt that I would give everything that Fantine gave and more if it meant that my children would live one more day. No matter how much pain she was in or how she was humiliated she was steadfast and true and her heart was directed solely at Cosette. The sacrifice of Fantine brought me to my knees, as it should everyone that sees it, and it took years for me to realize this.
This tale is another medium that shows how deeply strong and profoundly humbled one is by giving birth. You tear off a piece of your heart and you nurture it to grow, and you are changed forever by it. As pretty and poetic romantic love may be, a mother's love is steadfast and unbreaking, it never gives, it never hesitates, it never regrets. It is a mature love that is equipped to weather the storm of life and come out on the other side. It was a reminder that I needed to see tonight.