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Oscars 2013: Why audiences still relate to 'Les Miserables'

Do you hear the people sing? The lyrics in the popular musical "Les Miserables" have stood the test of time in part because parallels can be drawn between 1800s France and now. Will that relatability help its chances at tugging hearts and snagging an Oscar?


  1. What is it about the song "On My Own" from the musical "Les Miserables" that moves people to tears? And why, after so many years does "At the End of the Day" still capture the plight of the working class? Yes, in part it's because they are just plain sad, though the circumstances surrounding those and other songs from the musical capture raw emotions and themes that mean just as much in 2013 as they did in the 1800s.
  2. As the 85th annual Academy Awards inch closer, it's worth taking a look at how Victor Hugo's original themes prove just as identifiable in Tom Hooper's 2012 popcorn version of the musical.
  3. (All photos via Laurie Sparham and Universal Pictures)
  4. "Look Down," "At the End of the Day" and the 99 percent

  5. The Lyrics
  6. Look down and show some mercy if you can
    Look down, look down, upon your fellow man!

    At the end of the day you're another day colder
    And the shirt on your back doesn't keep out the chill
    And the righteous hurry past, they don't hear the little ones crying
    And the winter is coming on fast, ready to kill
    One day nearer to dying!

  7. What they're singing about: As French prisoners heave and toil under the watchful eye of the tyrannical police chief Javert and his henchmen, they sing about their descent to the lowest of the low -- the world's most despicable criminals. In the stage musical, they are joined by the beggars, pimps, prostitutes and lower-class denizens who yearn and plead for equality and their fair share from the elite.
  8. What it means today: Comparisons between "Les Mis" and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which brought together people decrying corporate greed and economic disparity, have been made to the nines, but could there really be a more perfect representation of it than from a large-scale musical?
  9. "I Dreamed a Dream," and why we can't have nice things

  10. The Lyrics
  11. I dreamed a dream in time gone by
    When hope was high, and life worth living
    I dreamed that love would never die
    I dreamed that God would be forgiving
  12. What she's singing about: Think your life is hard? Instagram won't load on your iPhone? Had to walk an extra flight of stairs to catch the train? Your toil probably isn't as bad as that of Fantine, one of the shortest-lived but most-loved characters in the history of musical theater.
  13. Her daughter's father abandoned her, some lame ladies at her job got real catty and pretty much got her fired over a letter, she sells her hair, teeth and clothing, turns to prostitution, presumably contracts several diseases, then dies. (Your Starbucks mocha frap is ready, by the way. It's a little hot.)
  14. What it means today: The thing about Fantine's character is though the worst of the world comes down on her shoulders, she rarely complains. Her internal monologue in "I Dreamed a Dream" is essentially a list of her life's struggles and some uncontested truths: "But there are dreams that cannot be / And there are storms we cannot weather." The takeaway in 2013? Life is no walk in the park, and so-called "first world problems" are never really as bad as we make them out to be.
  15. The "Master of the House" and ... John Boehner?

  16. The Lyrics
  17. Master of the house, keeper of the zoo
    Ready to relieve 'em of a sou or two
    Watering the wine, making up the weight
    Pickin' up their knick-knacks when they can't see straight
  18. What he's singing about: Monsieur Thenardier and his wife provide some much-needed comic relief in "Les Mis" as owners of a hole-in-the-wall inn who are known for swindling, tricking and over-charging those who saunter through their doors. In "Master of the House," as the oblivious patrons of the inn sing his praises, Thenardier whispers to the audience about how he tricks them out of money and possessions: "Charge 'em for the lice, extra for the mice / Two percent for looking in the mirror twice!"
  19. What it means today: There's the obvious connection between the "Master of the House" and the Speaker of the House John Boehner (namely their monikers), but could there be a deeper lesson in the song for our country's politicians? What is promised versus what is delivered is always a main point of contention between constituents and the people they elect to office. Though Thenardier is something of a man among the people, and Boehner's successes and failures as Speaker can sometimes be left to personal interpretation, one thing is for sure: corruption isn't in short supply in government.
  20. "Do You Hear the People Sing?", "One Day More" and the Middle East

  21. The Lyrics