In lesser hands, Hugo would have been interesting, odd, memorable for its quirkiness and subject matter, the equivalent of a cult-classic for children. But Martin Scorsese’s are not “lesser hands,” and he manages to turn this quirky little single-pane graphic novel about a boy’s mysterious mechanical man into a charming film about the power of one person’s imagination to awaken the imagination of others.
Martin Scorsese is also very interested in making sure his audience understands the importance of preserving old films, and this advocacy features prominently in this film. Scorsese does manage to work his message into the narrative in a mostly natural way, but your ability to overlook this film preservation propaganda (or how sympathetic you are to Scorsese’s cause) will determine your enjoyment of Hugo.
Hugo concerns a young boy, Hugo, who winds the clocks of one of Paris’ many train stations. Hugo climbs through the walls, swings from the pendulums, and spins on the gears of the station’s timepieces while trying to stay a step ahead of the station’s strict warden and his nosy German shepherd. He is also trying to fix an automaton his father gave him by stealing parts from broken wind-up toys from a nearby toy shop. This puts him in contact with the toy shop’s angry owner who complicates his plans to fix the mechanical man.
The identity of this toy shop owner is one of the film’s many narrative twists, so I will not reveal it here. I do want to clue you in on one of the film’s most charming motifs though. So many of this film’s images are direct references to the most famous, early, silent films. Some are very obvious and are directly mirrored in the film. Others are more subtle. I’m not going to point them all out to you, because I don’t have room and I probably didn’t notice them all myself. Suffice it to say, if a shot seems especially odd, it’s probably mimicking something famous. Scorsese’s last feature film, Shutter Island, was an homage to Hitchcock, and there were enough visual cues in the film to warrant groups of Hitchcock fanatics getting together to watch Shutter Island and call out when he was mimicking the master of suspense. A similar evening could be planned around silent films and Hugo.
Martin Scorsese seems to just really loves movies. Maybe this love stems from this childhood when because of his struggles with asthma, he spent his days in the local cinema instead of playing outside. The imagination of moviemakers awakened young Scorsese to new possibilities, and in Hugo, every character is awakened by the imagination of another.
That one’s hope can spark hope in another is a very beautiful belief, and one that I hold personally. I want everyone to show me what they love and what gives them hope, because I know I need others to help me to see the beauty and possibility and hope in the world and love the world better. That’s what I try to do with these movie reviews too – I try to point out what is beautiful in a film, so that you are a little better able to love what you see on the silver screen. Like Martin Scorsese, I see worlds of possibility in the movies. I want everyone else to see them too.
One final note, I saw Hugo twice, once in 3D and once in 2D. I enjoyed the two dimensional presentation more.