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Les Misérables (2012) - Movie Review for Parents

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Les Miserables
Photo © Universal Studios

Bottom line: Les Misérables is a movie adaptation of the beloved musical based on the book by Victor Hugo. The movie contains heavy thematic elements, violence, and significant content involving prostitution.

MPAA Rating: PG-13, for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Guide age recommendation: 13
Genre: Musical epic
Runtime: 158 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne
Release Date: December 25, 2012

Les Misérables - Overview

Les Misérables is the motion-picture adaptation of the renowned musical based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. The story, set in 19th-century France, weaves a tale that explores the depths of humanity from extreme to extreme and everything in between.

Finally free after serving a 19-year sentence of brutal hard labor all for stealing a piece of bread, Jean Valjean (Jackman) has nowhere to turn and a lifetime of parole ahead of him. An experience with a humble bishop changes his life, and he assumes a new identity and starts a new life. Years later, he runs a factory and is the benevolent mayor of a town. Sadly, the one man who could shatter Valjean's new life, police inspector Javert (Crowe), is sent to serve the very town where Valjean has made a life for himself.

Meanwhile, a factory worker called Fantine (Hathaway) is thrown out on the streets despite the fact that she needs money to send to the people who care for her young daughter Cosette. When Valjean comes across her later, she is destitute and dying, and she blames him for allowing her to be fired without cause. Valjean makes a solemn promise to care for little Cosette. Valjean's life takes on new purpose and meaning, but Javert closes in and threatens to destroy everything. No matter how he tries, it seems Valjean will never truly break free of the cords that bind him.

Les Misérables - Guide Review for Parents

With the captivating and timeless story of Les Misérables as a foundation, filmmakers had a good amount of the work done for the from the outset. At the same time, anything short of spectacular filmmaking would draw bitter scrutiny for butchering a beloved classic, and it's difficult to sell a movie version of a well-known musical. This film comes down closer to the spectacular side of the spectrum, with acting that is mostly brilliant though at times slightly overdone, against sets that are both beautiful and convincing. This is one of the first movies in a long time that I am truly excited to see again. I wish I could take my oldest daughter to see the film, but some of the thematic materiel is far too mature for her.

The resonating themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption come through in this moving story that pits justice against mercy. Comparing the movie adaptation of the musical to the theater version and the book provides interesting discussions for families with teens, and many aspects of the story lend to thought-provoking discussions or great subjects for school/home-school papers and essay questions. This movie is a great way to celebrate reading the book, especially if you can't take your teens to see the live show right away.

Parents wondering if this film is appropriate for their tweens or teens should know that the movie contains significant violence and some profanity, as well as a heavy amount of suggestive and sexual material. Much of the sexual material has to do with prostitution and could be very disturbing, confusing or uncomfortable even for older tweens and teens. In some scenes, men, women and children are treated harshly, hurt and humiliated. Sensitive teens may be upset or disturbed by these scenes. If you want more detailed descriptions of possibly offensive, disturbing or scary content, please see the content overview below.

Les Misérables - Content Overview

*May contain spoilers.

  • Violence (High): Les Misérables contains heavy violence throughout the movie. Prisoners are shown being abused in work camps, prostitutes on the street are humiliated and pushed around. A few fights involving hand-to-hand combat occur. Police rough up a few characters. A battle between some revolutionists and soldiers results in the intimate deaths of many characters including a child. Some blood and gore is shown.
  • Scary Scenes (High): Some scenes listed under violence may be frightening for young moviegoers. Some scenes are intense or scary when Valjean and Cosette are hiding or in peril due to being hunted by the police, who would surely arrest Valjean and leave Cosette without anyone to care for her.
  • Sex/Nudity (High): Nothing explicit is shown in the movie; however, many references to sex are made, some of which are bawdy. A prostitute is shown as a man touches her and the two have intercourse (only their faces are shown during the act). Prostitutes are shown and referred to throughout the movie.
  • Drugs and Alcohol (High) People are shown drinking throughout the movie. Some are drunk.
  • Language (High): Several words that are considered profanity are used including "b***h," "a**," "wh*re" and more.
  • Disrespectful/Imitative Behavior (Extreme): Javert, an overzealous policeman punishes people according to his whims and cannot understand the concept of mercy. He punishes every crime with strictness, but due to his own background, he punishes some sins with a disproportionately heavy hand. Characters trick and steal from each other, hire prostitutes, lie, humiliate others, and more. The poor are cast out and destitute. Some rebels rise up in a revolution, talking of war and killing their oppressors.

  • Sad/Unsettling Scenes (Extreme): Poor people in the streets are shown with various diseases and disfigurements. They are hungry and destitute, but oppressed and unable to help themselves. Fantine is unjustly fired from her job and forced to sell her hair and her body so she can get the money to send the innkeepers who care for her child. Her child is mistreated by them. Fantine and other main characters die. One character commits suicide.
  • Movie Topics Kids Might Have Questions About: historical topics surrounding France and general topics like how the poor were treated, rule by kings, revolutions and more; prostitution; justice and mercy; the idea of a punishment fitting the crime; death, war, oppression, disease and illness, suicide.
Disclosure: The studio provided a free screening of this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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