Film School: Hugo wins five Oscars and our hearts
On the same day Hugo won five Academy Awards from its 11 nominations, with cinnamon churros in hand and 3D glasses worn over my actual glasses (yep, I’m just your average happy, hungry dork), I was ready to be whisked away on Martin Scorsese's fantastical adventure of loss, discovery and purpose in a Parisian setting.
If it wasn’t Asa Butterfield’s heartfelt performance as Hugo that kept me captivated, it was certainly the visual splendour of the film. Each scene was a spectacle that felt at once both real and whimsical —it was as though we had walked through a wardrobe and discovered Narnia, filled with winter beauty and flights of fancy. For two hours, I was a child again.
Based on Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is set in the 1930s and follows the life of Hugo Cabret, an orphaned child who lives inside the walls of a Paris railway station, where he secretly maintains the giant station clocks everyday.
Devastated by his father’s death, Hugo embarks on a mission to uncover a secret message from his father by fixing an automaton his father had found. Hugo steals spare mechanical parts from an old toyshop in the train station, but is caught out by the cantankerous toymaker, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who confiscates Hugo’s notebook, which is filled with drawings and instructions on how to fix the automaton. It is Hugo’s determination to retrieve his notebook that finds him at Méliès’s home, where he meets young Isabelle, Méliès’s goddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) with a penchant for adventure.
Soon, the two children discover that Isabelle owns the heart-shaped key that will activate the automaton. It is when the automaton comes to life and sketches a drawing of a rocket and the moon that both Hugo and Méliès come to a crossroads: for Hugo, the sketch holds the possibility of connection with his dear father (a secret message, perchance?); for Méliès, it brings back the long-forgotten past.
We soon discover Méliès is a downtrodden filmmaker who was once a celebrated magician, actor, and pioneer of early filmmaking—most notably, the Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), which was Hugo’s father’s favourite film. Despite years of thriving success, Méliès’s filmmaking business suffered after the First World War ended, and it was not long before he let the once fiery passion of his dreams and brilliant imagination become but embers.
Hugo, in search of purpose after his father’s death, realises that the world is like a complex machine.
“Right after my father died, I would come up here a lot,” explains Hugo as he shows Isabelle the beautiful Parisian skyline from inside the giant clock tower. “I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines 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's desire for meaning in life and determination to uncover the mystery of Méliès ultimately reignites a spark in the ageing filmmaker, who, thanks to Hugo, eventually, albeit begrudgingly, rediscovers his love for films. “Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do,” muses Hugo. “Maybe it's the same with people; if you lose your purpose, it's like you're broken.”
Hugo’s journey is not one without trials, but it is his child-like faith in hope that helps him find comfort in his father’s death, discover his purpose as well as others’, and ultimately, find refuge and a fatherly figure in Méliès, who, at the end of it all, calls Hugo his own.
Hugo, in all its marvellous cinematography, poignant characters, and intricate storyline, reminds both children and adults alike of the importance of courage, selflessness, and dreams. Our journey affects not only our lives, but others’, too, as seemingly separate journeys are inextricably intertwined—much like the cog-work found in clocks, which turn in opposite directions but are always pushing each other into motion, unable to function without the other.
“I am standing before you tonight because of one very brave young man, who saw a broken machine and, against all odds, fixed it. It was the kindest magic trick that I've ever seen,” declares Méliès. “And now, my friends I address you all tonight, as you truly are: mermaids, travellers, adventurers, magicians! Come and dream with me.”
And so we do.
Julia @ Girl With a Satchel
Hugo is now available on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and Blu-ray 3D.