“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’, directed by Martin Scorsese in 2011, is an adventure movie set in Paris in 1931. A 12 year old boy, Hugo, loses his clockmaker father in a fire and finds himself living behind the scenes at Gare Montparnasse. His only possession is a clockwork automaton that he and his father were in the process of repairing. Hugo manages to repair the automaton, meets toymaker and director Georges Méliès, and finally gains a new family. It’s a perfectly judged movie from the fantastical imagery to the deep themes of the loss of family and of reputation and the need to elevate inventiveness and eccentricity as human virtues. The performances, particularly those of Asa Butterfield as Hugo and Ben Kingsley as Méliès, are believable enough to draw you into the story and ground you, despite the pyrotechnic visual and computer generated effects that create the look of the film. It’s about cinema and the power of silent movies of course: in one scene we see clips from a variety of early films that give a real sense of historical texture. Scorsese’s encyclopaedic awareness of the art form is evident in the use and manipulation of Méliès’s footage, but also in the feel that this film is somehow an updated version of Méliès’s fantasies. It is full of set pieces that revolve around exploring the strange internal world of the station and the chilly, cobbled streets of Paris. As suggested in the above quote, Hugo is like a loose cog in one of his own clockwork creations, rattling around this strange adult universe whilst trying to find a place for himself. It’s genuinely moving, and the ending which sees Méliès celebrated, Station Inspector Gustave, the only villain of the piece, redeemed and Hugo accepted is a powerfully evocative moment.
Would I recommend it? With ‘Paddington’ it’s a film I would put on the school curriculum.