Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, is so much more than that which meets the eye. The film is a dazzling, yet melancholy, peak into the life of young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), the maintainer of the clocks in a train station. We learn of Hugo’s plot to repair a broken automaton that can write; a project of his and his father’s (Jude Law) before his death that left Hugo an orphan. Retrieving pieces of toys from a shop in the station below, Hugo begins what we believe to be the central plot of the film. However, upon Hugo’s first encounter with the irritable shop owner (Ben Kingsley) from whom he has been stealing parts from, we are thrust into the true narrative that completely enthralls and enchants the audience. For he, veiled by the cantankerous visage and seclusion from public life he adopts as the shop owner, is actually the renowned, and, in this movie, despondent, French filmmaker George Méliès.
With the help of a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of George Méliès, Hugo embarks on an adventure to understand the message that the automaton has left for him. When this discovery is made, brought about by the necklace Isabelle wears around her neck,—a key in the shape of a heat that winds up the broken automaton—the plot transcends into something much more intriguing. We find ourselves in an entirely new film; Hugo’s desire to find a message from his father. When the automaton is finally fixed is simply the introduction, a prologue to frame the third act that renders this film so momentous and evocative.
While the alluring cinematography, and fascinating characters, whose individual lives decorate the train station, so define this film, the greater story of Mr. Méliès is made the subject of this film’s intensity. His harrowing frustrating with his films and how his practice has gone out of fashion is so deeply felt by the audience. The meticulous attention to the individual characters that this film is comprised of is done spectacularly by John Logan, who adapted his script from the novel the film is based on, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. However, though the film and the book follow similar paths, this movie is wholly individual; an ode to and a celebration of the classic films that Scorsese so adores.
Hugo does retain a few flaws. Watching with an older eye, the inner themes and messages relayed through acting and visual storytelling are communicated through dialogue the majority of the time. There is one scene in which Hugo finds out that, after winding up the automaton with Isabelle’s necklace, only writes for a moment before stopping, leaving little incomprehensible marks on the page. He states his desperation directly, despite the older members of the audience already being intimate with. The younger ones, however, may not experience this same acknowledgement. These characters take time to explain why they feel the way they feel, rather than allowing the audience to delve into their words to create own analysis. This aspect does not detract from the film too much, especially with the thought in mind that this movie is in part directed towards children, but it is a little bothersome.
The predictability of the ending is not something that detracts from it either. The playful fantasy that Scorsese employs to carry out the narrative is what so enjoyed and delighted me. The film delivers upon characteristics of the plot that have been set up since its inception, the continuity appreciated and admirable. To helm together the sorrowful Hugo, the dispirited Méliès, the inventive and intelligent Isabelle, and the various small lives of the Parisians in the train station renders Hugo an engaging, doleful, and lighthearted story to be sought after for years to come.
4 out of 5 Stars