Gwynplaine, a young boy who has been mutilated and left with a grotesque scarified grin, is abandoned by his carers. Homeless, he finds the body of a woman, with her newborn baby alive and clutching her breast. Gwynplaine saves the baby and is finally taken in by Ursus (Gérard Depardieu), a vagabond who lives in a tiny caravan with his pet wolf. Fifteen years later, they move to the city and launch a popular circus act, with Gwynplaine the star. His disfigured face is warmly accepted by the crowd when he is dressed as a clown. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo.