Ethos Education

Les Miserables: Changing Course

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Assembly Objective:

  • Are we simply slaves to our nature or is it possible for us to change? This assembly explores the Bible’s teaching about how we can become better people.

Film:

  • Les Miserables (Universal, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Bible:

Supporting Values Education:

  • The values of Individual Liberty, Democracy and Rule of Law are based on the belief that humans are capable of making real decisions, rather than ones that are determined by our genes or environment. This assembly encourages pupils to consider how we can change to become better people.

OPENING ACTIVITY

The Name Game (quiz)

Download the Character Name Game PowerPoint with this activity.

  • Quiz about things that change into other things.
  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Ask for two volunteers to take part in a quiz about famous people who have changed the names they were born with. Ask questions alternately to each contestant, initially just giving them the original name. If they want to guess whose real name it is without further clues, a correct answer will be worth five points. If they prefer to be shown three options before guessing, a correct answer is only worth two points. If a contestant gets the answer wrong, offer it to their opponent for five points (if no options have been revealed and they don’t want the options), or two points (if no options have been revealed, but they would like to see the three options, or one point if one of the three options have been ruled out).
    • Here are the questions:
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • Question 1: David McDonald [click to reveal options: David Tennant, Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor] [click again to reveal correct answer: David Tennant]
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • Question 2: Dylan Mills [click to reveal options: Scott Mills, Daniel Craig, Dizzee Rascal] [click again to reveal correct answer: Dizzee Rascal]
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • Question 3: Jessica Cornish [click to reveal options: Jessie J, Jessica Alba, Jessica Ennis] [click again to reveal correct answer: Jessie J]
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • Question 4: Ilyena Mironov [click to reveal options: Madonna, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley] [click again to reveal correct answer: Helen Mirren]
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • Question 5: William Adams [click to reveal options: Brad Pitt, William Shakespeare, will.i.am] [click again to reveal correct answer: will.i.am]
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • Question 6: Stephen Manderson [click to reveal options: Steve Coogan, Professor Green, Jack Dee] [click again to reveal correct answer: Professor Green]
  • [PowerPoint slide 8]
    • Question 7: Stefani Germanotta [click to reveal options: Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Scarlett Johansson] [click again to reveal correct answer: Lady Gaga]
  • [PowerPoint slide 9]
    • Question 8: Alecia Moore [click to reveal options: Pink, Judi Dench, Catherine Tate] [click again to reveal correct answer: Pink]
  • [PowerPoint slide 10]
    • Question 9: Eric Bishop [click to reveal options: Jamie Foxx, Ricky Gervais, Graham Norton] [click again to reveal correct answer: Jamie Foxx]
  • [PowerPoint slide 11]
    • Question 10: Peter Hernandez [click to reveal options: Peter Andre, Johnny Depp, Bruno Mars ] [click again to reveal correct answer: Bruno Mars]
    • After the contestants have returned to their seats (to warm applause, of course) explain that it’s very easy for people to change their name, but in the rest of today’s assembly you are going to be thinking about whether it is so easy for people to change their character.

Scorpion Tale (something to listen to)

  • Tell the students the old story of the scorpion and the frog:
    • There was once a scorpion who wanted to cross a wide, powerful river. He knew that he had no way of getting across on his own, so he asked a frog to carry him on his back.
    • ‘No way!’ said the frog. ‘You’re a scorpion – if I let you onto my back you’ll just poison me with your sting and I’ll be dead.’
    • ‘Don’t be silly,’ replied the scorpion. If I sting you, you’ll sink beneath the water and I’ll drown. We would both be dead. Why would I do something that led to my own death?’
    • This convinced the frog, so they set off on their journey across the river. Half way across, the scorpion plunged its sting deep into the frog’s back. With it’s dying breath the frog turned its head and gasped a single word: ‘Why?’
    • The scorpion shrugged. ‘What can I say? I’m a scorpion. It’s my nature – there’s no fighting that.’ And with that, the pair of them sank beneath the river to their watery graves.
    • Explain that in today’s assembly you are going to be thinking about whether people are simply slaves to their nature or whether it is possible for someone to change.

FILM CLIP

  • Play the clip from Les Miserables:
    • Start time:       0.41.33 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
    • End time:         0.43.20
    • Clip length:      1 minute and 47 seconds
  • The clip starts with Javert (Russell Crowe) bursting in on Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in the hospital. The first line is Javert singing, ‘Valjean, at last, we see each other plain.’ The clip ends with Valjean leaping through a window and landing in the river below.
  • The clip shows Valjean pleading with Javert to allow him to go in order to rescue Cossette, the daughter of the recently deceased Fantine. In response Javert argues that men like Valjean – i.e. criminals – can never change and that he would be mad to believe Javert’s claim to be on a mission of mercy and let him go.

TALK

Download the Character Les Mis Talk PowerPoint with this presentation.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Is it possible for people to change? Are we hard-wired to react in certain ways, or do we have a choice? Are we slaves to our nature [if you used Opening Activity Scorpion Tale, refer to that here], whether that be good or bad, or do we have the capacity to remake ourselves, to change direction in life?
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • That question is one of the themes explored in the film Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, is a convict who experiences a change of heart after stealing some church silver. The priest saves Valjean from the police by lying to them, claiming that he himself gave the silver to his guest. Valjean is so struck by this act of kindness that he determines to become an honest, decent man.
    • Eight years later, Valjean is a wealthy and well respected man, with his criminal past unknown. Until his path crosses that of his old prison guard, Russell Crowe’s Javert, who recognises him. In the scene we’re about to see, Valjean is visiting a dying lady in hospital, and he has just promised to find her daughter and look after her. Then Javert arrives. Try to listen out to what Javert has to say when Valjean begs to be allowed to go and fulfil his promise to the dying woman.
    • Play the clip from Les Miserables:
      • Start time:       0.41.33 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
      • End time:         0.43.20
      • Clip length:      1 minute and 47 seconds
    • The clip starts with Javert (Russell Crowe) bursting in on Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in the hospital. The first line is Javert singing, ‘Valjean, at last, we see each other plain.’ The clip ends with Valjean leaping through a window and landing in the river below.
    • If you are unable to play the clip, say, ‘Javert simply refuses to believe that Valjean is a different character to the convict he knew all those years before. He tells Valjean that, ‘Men like you can never change’.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • Why is Javert so certain that men like Valjean can never change? The audience of the film has already seen that this isn’t true, that Valjean is a new man, but Javert hasn’t witnessed Valjean’s transformative experience when the priest saved him. Even though we know Javert is wrong, does that mean we can’t understand why he doesn’t believe Valjean? Generally speaking, the old saying about leopards not changing their spots tends to be true. For most people change is too hard and it’s easier to carry on as they are.
    • The Bible has several stories about people who changed. Let’s look at one of the most famous. This concerns a man called Saul who was alive at the time when Jesus’ first followers were beginning to tell people about Jesus’ death and resurrection. As you’ll see, he wasn’t a fan of the emerging church.
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ Saul asked. And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ Acts 9:1-6, New Living Translation.
    • So Saul, blinded from his encounter on the road, goes on to Damascus and God tells a Christian there, a man called Ananais, to go to him. Ananias is reluctant, reminding God that Saul is the one trying to kill Christians, but God says he has other plans for Saul. Bravely, Ananais does what God asks:
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is indeed the Son of God!’ All who heard him were amazed. ‘Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?’ they asked. ‘And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?’ Acts 9:17-21, New Living Translation.
  • [PowerPoint slide 8]
    • Saul became better known as Paul, and he devoted the rest of his life to making Jesus known across the world. He wrote several of the letters that make up the New Testament and was one of the most significant figures in the growth of the early church.
    • Like Valjean in Les Miserables, Saul’s transformation came about because someone with no reason to help showed kindness. Ananais and the Priest in Les Miserables both acted out of Christian love, helping an enemy despite having little to gain themselves and much potentially to lose. [click] For Saul, there was also a dramatic supernatural encounter with Jesus, but for both Valjean and Saul, there was an encounter with a follower of Jesus who was committed to sharing God’s love regardless of the cost.
    • It is hard work for us to change the way we are, but it isn’t impossible. Valjean and Paul both explicitly credit the change in their lives to God’s activity. They would both have described the change as being started by God’s intervention in their lives, and would have credited him with enabling them to carry that change through.
  • [PowerPoint slide 9]
    • Maybe you’re quite happy with everything in your life. Maybe you don’t feel any need to change anything. If that’s the case, that’s great. But if there are things in your life, ways that you tend to react, ways that you treat other people that you regret later, it’s worth remembering that you can do something about that. You don’t have to go on like the scorpion [omit the previous three words if you didn’t use Opening Activity: Scorpion’s Tale] doing what you’ve always done. There is another way, and there is help available if you want to take it.

Headings and Bullets

Download the Character Les Mis Talk PowerPoint with this presentation.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Is it possible for people to change?
    • Refer to Op Act: Scorpion’s Tale if you used it.
    • Are we slaves to our nature, or can we change?
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • Theme explored in Les Miserables:
      • Hugh Jackman’s Valjean an ex-convict.
      • A priest saves him from police, covering up the theft of church silver.
      • Valjean changes, becoming an honest man.
      • Eight years later, Valjean meets one of his prison guards, Russell Crowe’s Javert.
      • Valjean has promised to look after a dying lady’s daughter and begs Javert not to arrest him so he can keep his promise.
    • Play the clip from Les Miserables:
      • Start time:       0.41.33 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
      • End time:         0.43.20
      • Clip length:      1 minute and 47 seconds
    • The clip starts with Javert (Russell Crowe) bursting in on Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in the hospital. The first line is Javert singing, ‘Valjean, at last, we see each other plain.’ The clip ends with Valjean leaping through a window and landing in the river below.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • Why is Javert so sure men like Valjean can never change?
      • Javert didn’t see what happened to Valjean when he met the priest.
      • Generally, leopards don’t change their spots.
      • Change is harder than staying the same.
    • The Bible has many stories about people who changed.
      • One of the most famous – Saul.
      • Saul lived in the time of Jesus’ first followers.
      • He wasn’t a fan.
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ Saul asked. And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ Acts 9:1-6, New Living Translation.
    • Saul goes on to Damascus:
      • God tells Ananias to go to Saul.
      • Ananias is reluctant, but does what God says.
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is indeed the Son of God!’ All who heard him were amazed. ‘Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?’ they asked. ‘And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?’ Acts 9:17-21, New Living Translation.
  • [PowerPoint slide 8]
    • Saul became better known as Paul.
      • Paul devoted his life to making Jesus known across the world.
      • He wrote much of the New Testament.
      • One of the most significant figures in the growth of the early church.
    • Saul’s transformation, like Valjean’s, happened because someone showed kindness.
      • Both Ananias and the Priest in Les Miserables acted out of Christian love to help an enemy.
      • [click] For Saul, a dramatic encounter with Jesus.
      • For both Saul and Valjean an encounter with a follower of Jesus committed to sharing his love.
    • Change is hard work, but it isn’t impossible.
      • Valjean and Paul both credit their change to God’s activity.
      • Both would describe the change as starting with God.
      • Both would credit God with enabling them to carry the change through.
  • [PowerPoint slide 9]
    • Maybe you’re happy with your life and feel no need to change.
    • Maybe there are things – ways you react, ways you treat people – that you regret.
      • You can do something about it.
      • You don’t have to do what you’ve always done [refer to Scorpion if you used Op Act Scorpion’s Tale].
      • There is another way.

Photo Copyright for Character Les Mis Talk PowerPoint: Slide 1 Universal Pictures / Slide 2 and 8 Universal Pictures / Slide 3 iStockphoto.com / Slides 4-7 Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org / Slide 9 Universal Pictures


RESPOND

Prayer

  • Dear God, thank you for the possibility of change, and that when you call us to change our lives you also help us to make those changes. Thank you that you are a God of second chances and fresh starts. Help us always to be willing to offer other people a second chance when they have hurt us or made mistakes in their lives.

Reflection

  • Is there anything in your life that you would like to be able to start afresh with, to do differently? What elements of your behaviour would you like to be able to change? How would that change benefit other people, not just yourself?

YOU WILL NEED:

  1. Les Miserables (Universal, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.
  2. Character Name Game PowerPoint.
  3. Character Les Mis Talk PowerPoint.

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