Background : In 1956, after attending Cardinal Hayes Catholic high school, Martin Scorsese pursued priesthood in seminary college; but, after witnessing the beauty of movies in local theaters, he fell in love with film and decided to pursue a degree in film instead: graduating from NYU with a B.A. in English in 1964, and an M.A. in film in 1966. He has stated that “My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else.” So, in short, this film is Scorsese: film and religion interwoven into the beauty of moving pictures.
Audience : For the sake of film appreciation, every person should see this movie. There’s enough entertainment to keep younger audiences attentive, yet enough thought and depth for older audiences to chew on. “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children,” wrote Lewis, “is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” This is a good children’s story.
Fallen Warning : This is not your typical Scorsese venture — no language problems, no bleeding copses, and, other than Hugo’s nightmare, most the film is colorful and bright. The film is in a world of contrast however, with dark shadows fleeting throughout. I mean, Marty once called An Age of Innocence his most violent film; and, I have to agree that it is definitely his most (socially) violent…with a big wink of the eye, that is.
Brief Summary : An orphan living among the catwalks of a train station meets a mysterious girl who brings him to discover a mysterious and forgotten past, which uncovers the purpose of every other character in the story.
Analysis : (Spoilers) “I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine,” spoke Hugo describing the world that laid out before him. “If you found a watch in an empty field, then you would logically conclude that that watch was designed and not the product of random formation,” illustrates William Paley in his teleological argument for intelligent design. “Likewise, when we look at life and the universe, it is natural to conclude that there is a designer, since we see how perfectly the universe and life forms operate” (1). Like a clock, like Hugo’s world, like this world, film too is perfectly designed: every character designed for a role to play, every scene written for a purpose, and all actions directed under the design of the director, and the rest of the crew. “Machines,” spoke Hugo, “never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”
Hugo is a story of broken parts, broken people and broken lives that need repairing. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives by a life of theft, who’s life went up into ash and whose only connection to his father, his past life, is a small notebook and a broken automaton. Georges Méliès is an old man whose heart is broken and whose life work went up into ashes because of a broken world that had abandoned him. Both Hugo and Georges are creators who love to create and repair what has been broken, yet who both need repairing themselves. Isabelle (whose name means God’s promise), is the glue that repairs the two. There are many theological analogies in this film. Hugo plays a kind of Son of Man, whose curse is a life of orphanhood to be hounded (literally) by the harvester of the orphanage and his dog, like death and his dog harvesting man for Hades. Georges is a kind of abandoned father, like the Heavenly Father that man left behind in their curse, and whose creation has broken his heart in its brokenness. Hugo stole what was not his, and Georges burned his notebook for his theft (this is later repaired, however). Hugo’s notebook is his only connection to his father, his immortal soul, which is sent to ash from whence it came; while his automaton is his created heart (also the creation of Georges), it is both that which keeps him going, but also that which could be his doom, as it could easily become automated to live without living for any real purpose. Isabelle’s key is that which brings his automaton to life, she is like God’s spirit bringing him back to life — the key that fits the machine — both belonging to their creator: Georges (God). So, the three play a kind of trinity between each other, a trinity that must repair its creation to be whole again (unlike the real trinity which is eternally whole and has never been broken). Hugo gives his life, he is captured by the inspector, the harvester of the orphanage, so that the automaton may be saved; he is like Christ giving his life to save humanity, while the train, which he throws himself in front of, is like the cross. And, like God the Father raising Christ by His will, from death’s hand, Georges adopts Hugo (God adopts man, the gentiles) to save him from the inspector’s hand (from death): he who snatches Hugo from the train tracks. They are all repaired, and each character is whole again by the end.
The whole film is beautifully made, playing on classic images and film work, while maintaining a vey unique atmosphere. While I did not mention every detail for the sake of time and space, this film offers quite a bit. Even small characters that play a simply comic relief are fully realized, which makes it a beautiful character piece, and which gives it a kind of foreign film feel. Obviously I love this movie — I cannot help it, all that I could want in a film is present here. Man is the crown of God’s creation, film is the reflection of that beauty in motion, and Hugo illustrates just why this is.
“With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling, we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” — T. S. Eliot
Further Recommendations : You may want to consider The King’s Speech, Up and Wall-E, Casablanca, 1927’s Sunrise, A Trip to the Moon, and any other classic film: perhaps silent sunday nights on TCM as well.