March 1, 2012 Volume 26, Number 03
Hugo sparkles with cinematic magic
By Bruce Soderholm | ChristianWeek Columnist
Hugo official movie poster
When an iconic master director, Martin Scorsese, decides to adapt a marvelous story such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret for film, we might well expect there to be some cinematic magic. Hugo does not disappoint. Scorsese, inspired by his wife's challenge to make a film that their 11-year-old daughter could watch, has crafted a film that's been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Hugo's current DVD release (February 28) will extend the film's reach into many homes. My own bias, however, is to catch Hugo on the big screen in 3D, if at all possible, as its use of 3D is the best argument for the technology since Avatar. In particular, the impressive workings of various clockworks and mechanical creations with their attendant cogs and gears bring the story to life.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a 12-year-old orphan living in the hidden spaces of a Paris train station in the 1930s. Like many orphan protagonists, from Oliver Twist to Harry Potter, Hugo is independent, resourceful and resilient. He lives by his wits to forage for food, and yet is faithful to the task of maintaining the clockworks in the train stationa job he inherited from a dissolute uncle who has since disappeared.
If the plot sounds at something of a remove from realism, don't worry. The film deliberately channels whimsy with a capital W. Hugo's primary antagonist is the station's security inspector, brilliantly rendered by Sacha Baron Cohen.
Hugo's ongoing quest is to bring back to working order an automaton (a mechanized robot), a labour of love he shared with his dad (Jude Law) before he died. Hugo is convinced that the automaton somehow contains a message from his fathersomething that he desperately craves to help him make sense of the world.
He articulates this hope to his newfound friend, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz): "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."
Hugo's existential angst echoes the profound quest of all humanity, to know where we fit in, and to understand the reason for our existence. At least part of that reason, as suggested by the film, is to be part of communityeven with those who might appear hostile at first. Another part is to celebrate the creative human impulse. This theme is developed through the crucial subplot of a train station character played by Ben Kingsley, a man who has concealed his own mysterious past. It is in the unraveling of this mystery that the film pays tribute to the origins of cinema and the power of imagination in those who foresaw the power that film might have to move an audience, as well as to entertain.
Rating: Four out of four projectors
Bruce Soderholm is a freelance writer and educator who makes his home in southern Ontario.