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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Hugo

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

“Hugo” is based on the remarkable Caldecott Medal winning novel for young people by Brian Selznick, “The Invention of Hugo Carbet” (2007). The book itself is a joy to read, a celebration of the power of the imagination and the magic of the movies.

The film adaptation is director Martin Scorsese’s passionate “hommage” to storytelling through cinema. It was written by John Logan, who is not a consistently good writer (he was nominated for Oscars for “Gladiator” and “The Aviator” but he also wrote “The Last Samurai” and “Rango”, that while entertaining, were lacking in plot development) but he has done a wonderful job here.

“Hugo” is the story of Hugo Carbet, a young orphan boy who lives in a Paris train station in 1930. Hugo’s father (Jude Law), a curator at a museum who is fascinated by an automaton, has died. Hugo’s Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) comes to fetch him and the boy manages to grab his father’s notebook and the robot as he leaves.

When Uncle Claude disappears, Hugo keeps the clocks on time, helps himself to food around the station and comes to the attention of a station inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen). The owner of a stand that repairs and sells mechanical toys, an older man (Ben Kingsley) also notices Hugo trying to lift a toy and takes his notebook. He then hires Hugo to repair toys.

The stand owner turns out to be Georges Méliès, (1861-1938),  a former magician, and the first filmmaker to make fantasy science fiction films. His  “La Voyage Dans la Lune” can be seen in various lengths on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Kpnbl3tn58 and is included in “Hugo”.   This information may seem like a “spoiler” but I think knowing it before seeing the film, especially if you are not familiar with film history, will add to your experience.

Méliès, made hundreds of films between 1897 and 1914 when he stopped because people preferred the ”realism” of the films of the Lumiere Brothers, who are credited with  inventing cinema, though now they are referred to  as being among the first  inventors., including Thomas Edison. Their  “Arrival of a Train”   is included in “Hugo” and can be seen on YouTube as well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dgLEDdFddk. This short film revolutionized society, that is, the way people came together in a shared experience of a story in ways never before experienced. Going to movies became an industry (Georges tells the story of his studio and how the studio workers, mostly women, made color film by paining each frame one by one. This is an amazing feat of creativity and intense, painstaking labor when you consider that film moves at 24 frames per second.)

Méliès wife, Mama Jeanne is played well by Helen McCrory and their ward, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), is the courageous girl who befriends Hugo, who brings everyone together.

What makes “Hugo” so special to me is that Martin Scorsese made it and it is filled with the afterimage of his Catholicism and imbued with his passion for cinema. This is evident in the visuals as well as the attitude toward the arts, storytelling, family, and the honor he gives to the imagination. In an era when literal interpretation is the driving method for understanding stories, news, and often scripture, a method that dries up dreams and ignores the imagination, “Hugo” is a gift to all of us.

I found myself profoundly moved by the film and at one point, I just started crying for the sheer joy of seeing the creative imagination validated.  If we  approach the film intentionally, willing to wait for the story to unfold, to savor the blend of sight and sound, to become a curious child again, to become seekers again, we, too, will be rewarded, just like Hugo.




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