Les Misérables, A Midnight in Paris, and Human Longing

My wife and I, along with some friends, caught Les Misérables at the theater last week, and it delivered, to say the least. At first, I was a little apprehensive about the movie, because I was not sure if it could pack a punch like its musical counterpart. It did, and some parts were even more powerful than the musical version – in particular,  Marius’, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” My wife, Lauri, went on and on about the impact of that song on the big screen.

What I have always loved about Les Misérables is the force with which it drives home the sense of longing in all of us. There is hope for a better place, where “every man will be a king,” – a place where dreams come true for people like Fantine, Cosette, Valjean, et al. And, I think the emotional, heartfelt response from the viewers testify that the audience at large resonates with the sentiment.

I felt the same thing after watching Woody Allen’s, A Midnight in Paris. The main character, who is a 21st-century writer, travels to Paris and is nostalgic about Parisian life in the 1920s. In his mind, rubbing shoulders with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Eliot would have been the apex of any writer’s life.

Allen’s portrayal of longing in the human soul is true. We all long for something better – whatever we think that is. People are never fully satisfied. We always want more or something different. There is a sense that nothing can and will satisfy the human soul. However, C. S. Lewis points out, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

I think Lewis is spot on. All of the created order points us to the object of our longing; they are not the desired thing itself. Creation points us to its maker, and He alone can satisfy the human soul. Augustine said it best, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” For Christians, this is the goal of our journey – to see God face to face and be in his presence. That will be fully realized in the New Heavens and the New Earth – when God makes all things right. John the Revelator tells of the heavenly city coming down in the shape of a cube, symbolizing the presence of God as reflected in the inner sanctum of the temple (Holy of Holies was a cube). In the resurrection, God presence will be fully realized and all of our longings will be satisfied.

On that day, the dream Fantine dreamed will become reality, little girls like Cosette will never be victimized ever gain, and rich young boys will no longer wish for a new king; the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the slain Lamb, will be in on the throne – in his rightful place.

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