What Have I Done? (Valjeann’s Soliloquy) – Alfie Boe (1980, Les Miserable)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

I don’t normally do something like this: that is, blog about musicals or incorporate film into this “tunes-based” website.

But, then again, I don’t normally experience something like what happened to me last week.

I went to the movies over the holidays and witnessed the newest adaptation of “Les Miserable” (sorry French geeks, I’m not going to include the accent over the “e”).  It was by far, the best musical film that I have ever seen.  This story, this play, and this song was amazingly performed in the film, capturing the essence of redemption and a changed heart.

For those of you who don’t know, Les Mis is about a man (Jean Valjean) released from prison after serving a 19 year sentence for stealing bread.  It is set in the early 1800’s after the French Revolution and during times of poverty, political upheaval and military dominance.  Valjean is a ruined, hardened ex-con who doesn’t know how to reclaim his life or his dignity when a local bishop offers him grace and a chance at redemption.

Listen to the lyrics as this man struggles with this offer of mercy.  Listen as if he was directly singing about Jesus, Himself:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there’s another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The power of this man’s transformation so closely resembles what the Gospel does to anyone who truly believes and embrace’s it.  Valjean goes on to live out the Gospel in the way he treats other people: offering kindness and forgiveness, withholding malice, loving the broken and sacrificing for those he loves.  Christ demands the same from His own:

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know Him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him.”        (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

I challenge all readers to go and see this film in the theater, simply for the purpose of being lambasted in your soul by the power of this Bible text exemplified in the story of Jean Valjean.  The visual of his torment turned into peace, the sound of this song ringing the Gospel transformation through surround sound – it is a sensory revival that is greatly needed amidst the mind-numbing, desensitization that we face today.  The film intensely captures the close-up shots of Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) struggling mentally and emotionally as his heart is melted and his soul renewed.

Our stories are our own, but we all must stare into the whirlpool of our sin and wonder whether or not a new story will begin.  If Jesus is your Savior, then your misery has been turned into redemption and you can bellow out from the bowels of your soul along with Valjean, “Instead He offers me my freedom!”


One thought on “What Have I Done? (Valjeann’s Soliloquy) – Alfie Boe (1980, Les Miserable)

  1. Excellent point of view, one that many miss when viewing the musical– whether on stage or screen. This truly is a story about redemption and God’s grace. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront for those who will view it in the future!

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