In the recent film version of Les Miserables (pronounced "Les *barfing noises*"), Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a thief who is relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) for over 20 years for stealing some bread. Most of you probably know that the movie is based on a stage musical, which in turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo ... which is based on a single dude.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Eugene Francois Vidocq
We've talked before about Eugene Francois Vidocq, the real-life equivalent of Sherlock Holmes and every other impossibly good fictional detective, from Hercule Poirot to Batman. What we didn't mention was that, in a Fight Club-esque twist, he was also both the protagonist and the antagonist of Les Miserables.
The first rule of Les Miserables is never admit that you don't like it.
Like Jean Valjean, Vidocq ended up in prison as a young man, but managed to escape and was on the run for years, posing as different people. He was a successful businessman and factory owner, but his past kept coming back to haunt him. A famous scene in the book is when Valjean saves a sailor by lifting a cart off of him -- it was Vidocq who actually did that.
Vidocq eventually reached an arrangement with the authorities that allowed him to use his experience as a criminal to catch other criminals, becoming a law enforcer ... and that leads us to Inspector Javert, who in the novel is also a reformed criminal who now chases after his former kind. Remember how Javert would use clever disguises in order to catch criminals? That was all Vidocq, too. So, basically:
"Sacrebleu! Le chauve-souris homme!"
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For more fictional machinations that are actually real, check out 5 Badass Movie Characters You Didn't Know Were Real People and 6 Fictional Places You Didn't Know Actually Existed.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why the New 'Hunger Games' Movie Is Orange and Blue.
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