Hugo - ***
Directed by: Martin Scorcese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jude Law
Review: It’s amazing how Hollywood seems to randomly fall into certain themes. Certain years, lots of the prominent movies have concurrent themes running through them. Just like ‘The Artist’ and ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ (at least from what I’ve heard about that one, since I haven’t actually seen it), ‘Hugo’ is a film about love and loss. It’s a film about the journey we all go through in life in order to figure out where we fit in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes we can be “broken” but in the same regard we can also always be “fixed.”
As a film, Hugo’s reach exceeds its grasp by a bit. There are basically two separate stories being told here, each one trying to have as a profound effect as the other. The two stories center around a more-or-less homeless child who lives in a train station trying to keep memories of his father alive as he searches for his place in the world, and a long forgotten silent film maker who is trying to reconcile his past life with his new role.
Either one could probably be a solid stand alone film, and either one would probably be a better film than Hugo, but as it stands it’s still an enjoyable experience. You can tell Scorcese cares deeply about the material. Perhaps it’s is his own fear of loss or being forgotten that drew him to this film in the first place. The story has always been that Scorcese was ready to walk away after directing ‘Taxi Driver’ until Robert DeNiro talked him out of it. Scorcese’s place in the world was in the director’s chair and nowhere else.
These two stories intersect in that Hugo unknowingly has been stealing from a once great director of the silent film era. While researching his love for movies Hugo (Butterfield) discovers this as does his newfound companion Isabelle (Moretz) who is stunned to learn her caretaker Papa George (Kingsley) is a man of such legend.
After World War I, the country moved on from silent movies. George’s career was over. Rather than try to evolve with the movies of the time, he gave up and became bitter about his past. What cruel fate that such high levels of success only made it that much harder to stomach being a failure. More than the stardom and the fame though, it was the feeling George had making movies. As a man with lots of dreams George felt right at home making those dreams reality on celluloid.
As the world moved on, George lost that feeling and it slowly began to eat away at him. Life was a cruel joke with imagination and stories all around that George had nothing to do with. The visions and dreams he always had continued to dance in his own head with no medium for which to get them out. His most prized creation was an automaton that he created years ago.
Hugo’s father found this automaton collecting dust in a museum. After his father died, Hugo tried to keep his memory alive by fixing the automaton. This, of course, being an allegory that crosses over to both stories. Through fixing the mechanical robot, Hugo learns that you have to find your place in the world and no matter how broken, you can always be fixed. Seeing his automaton repaired George realizes where his place in the world is. Together they have helped each other re-discover where they fit in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps it’s the children’s book source material, but all of that is rather plainly spelled out on the screen. This is not a fault of the writing or direction as the story genuinely called for everything to be wrapped all nice and tidy in a bow. Where the story falls short is in its straightforwardness.
Hugo continues to speak of how he has to “fix everything” and “find where he fits.” It’s a common dilemma many young kids have and only increasingly so as the world continues to get larger. We all seem to get closer together and further apart at the same time. The train station is a perfect metaphor for this story. Trains as a mode of transportation opened up the world to new possibilities of places to go and things to see. The railroads were a symbol of all of us reaching out to each other to become closer together. Maybe you didn’t feel like you “fit” where you were, but the world is a big place and we all “fit” somewhere.
I’m sure Scorcese teetered back in forth between deciding if he wanted to make a movie for children or adults. Unfortunately, that indecisiveness showed up on screen as we got storylines that fit together though not as cohesive as you would think. Hugo is a good film, but I don’t feel it to be the movie that everyone is making it out to be up to this point. The production design is phenomenal and the technical aspects of the film great, but there could have been more with the story and characters that would have added to this movie becoming great.
I would say this movie is worth your time for a rental.