Last night we went to see the most recent film version of Les Miserables. As many viewers have noted, the contrast between law and grace in the film is both pronounced and profound.
For me, the most powerful scene in the movie is Inspector Javert's song right before he kills himself.
Javert embodies our natural addiction to law and our natural aversion to grace. Committed to the rigorous inflexibility of the law, Javert has been given grace time and time again from the very one he has mercilessly hunted for decades, Jean Valjean. The grace of Valjean haunts and radically disorients Javert.
Who is this man? What sort of devil is he, to have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free? It was his hour at last to put the seal on my fate, wipe out the past and wash me clean off the slate! All it would take was a flick of his knife. Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life! Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief! Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase! I am the Law and the Law is not mocked. I'll spit his pity right back in his face! There is nothing on Earth that we share! It is either Valjean or Javert!
How can I now allow this man to hold dominion over me? This desperate man whom I have hunted … He gave me my life. He gave me freedom. I should have perished by his hand. It was his right. It was my right to die as well. Instead I live … but live in Hell! And my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? And must I now begin to doubt, who never doubted all these years? My heart is stone, and still it trembles! The world I have known is lost in shadow. Is he from heaven or from hell? And does he know … that, granting me my life today, this man has killed me, even so? I am reaching … but I fall. And the stars are black and cold, as I stare into the void of a world that cannot hold. I'll escape now from that world, from the world of Jean Valjean. There is ...