Saturday, June 23, 2012


Hard times are when it makes the most sense to dream.
Martin Scorsese's Hugo might be about many things---a fatherless boy, a filmmaker, an automaton, French cinema---but underlying every act in the film are the central themes of memories, dreams, and yearnings, whether they be the characters' or the director's. Nothing is out of grasp, not really. Wars happen, people die too early, but occasionally there do come happy endings. And though times have definitely changed since the those of young Hugo Cabret and French film pioneer George Melies, we still dream, we still imagine, and we still need the magic and escape of movies. This is a topic no one knows better than Martin Scorsese.
Hugo, based upon Brian Selznick's novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is the story of a young boy (played by Asa Butterfield) who, through an incomplete automaton, hopes to somehow reconnect with his departed father. He lives alone inside a railway station in Paris, tending clocks, occasionally scoring croissants here and there, and stealing spare mechanical parts from the toy vender just outside his peephole in order to continue fixing the automaton according to his father's special illustrated diary. Things don't go well for Hugo once the toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) catches him red-handed; he seizes Hugo's diary, as well as the miscellaneous spare parts he was carrying, and takes the lot home. As Hugo stubbornly tags along, he meets the man's Goddaughter, Isabelle, who is sympathetic to his situation and agrees to get the book back for him. The two become friends, sharing a love of adventure, stories, and eventually movies. As Hugo glides effortlessly through the inner workings of the different areas of the clock tower, he must carefully avoid the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), find food for himself, and work further at both retrieving the manual and fixing the automaton, as he's convinced it will bring forth a message from his father. In so doing, he and Isabelle discover the secret that her Godfather is not just a shopkeeper but a very special man, indeed.
Anyone familiar with Martin Scorsese's history will no doubt see the link between Hugo (especially the giddy filmgoing version) and Scorsese himself. Having admittedly grown up in movie theaters, many of which showed the films that would later influence his own work as a filmmaker, Scorsese isn't just paying homage with this film---he wants everyone to know the story, the origins of the blessed medium he loves so much. If Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas were the offerings to the auteurs of the French New Wave, then Hugo is a tribute to the man who largely made it all possible, George Melies.

Just as many of us have forgotten about or are uninterested in the histories of things like phones or automobiles, there are plenty of folks out there who surely love movies but have no clue how they really got started; this film will show you. Film theorists like to talk about "self reflexivity," or how a film pays attention to the fact that it's a film, even giggling about it, if you like; through the inner mechanics of the numerous clocks, the constant scenes showing film and film projectors, not to mention Hugo and Isabelle's jaunt inside the movie house---this film will show you that, too. Though we do care for them, what happens to the characters very nearly becomes secondary to seeing Scorsese's valentine unfold, to experiencing first hand what can only be described as complete and total passion and excitement for the craft, and to knowing that Scorsese was dreaming these big dreams, too, just as Melies had. The lights and colors are always striking; events foreshadowed in the films the characters watch actually happen in the manner depicted; two lonely people (one a boy, one a grown man) find new focus and joy in life. Wow.
Scorsese once said in an interview, "My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else." I say film is your religion, Marty, and the rest of us dreamers are all the better for it.