Hugo is an interesting and entertaining movie which offers many topics for discussion. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the plot revolves around a boy, Hugo, and his search for answers following his father’s death. Hugo meets Georges Méliès, a real-life cinema pioneer and the central character in the film, who after his glory years in the world of cinema, dedicates his life to mending toys in a little shop in Montparnasse Station.
Both have been through grief and suffering and this leads to our first reflection. The story unfolds in 1930s Paris, a sparkling, vibrant decade of change in a France recovering from the tragic events of World War I. The contrast between the many positive aspects of the modern world, with its technological advances, and the suffering and loneliness of the two principal characters is obvious. Great feats of engineering and man’s creativity are praiseworthy, but they don’t always hold the answers to the evil and pain from which people suffer.
Hugo and Méliès’ start their unlikely relationship on the wrong foot, especially since they are both shut in by grief, selfishness, and loneliness, but little by little they embark on a friendship which leads them to rediscover their self-worth and recognize the dignity of the other as well as their own. This is, perhaps, one of the most interesting elements of the movie. Hugo and Méliès at first seem like two machines, broken by life and, like everything broken, separated from the original purpose of their existence. Both must abandon their imprisonment and loneliness to walk towards the discovery of a new purpose. “If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken,” says Hugo, perhaps intuiting the great joy there is in helping others find their purpose in life.
The movie also reminds us that man is not a complex mechanical artifact, which can be repaired by the expert hand of a mechanic or watchmaker. He can, however, be healed by love, concern, self-giving, forgiveness, and the recognition of his self-worth and personal dignity. Hugo and Méliès find personal reconciliation, not with tools or mechanical gadgets, but through an encounter and the mutual recognition of each person’s intrinsic worth.
Another very important aspect of the movie relates to man’s ingenuity and capacity for hoping and dreaming. The incredibly complex mechanics of the clocks housed by the station and the reference to the Jaquet-Droz family’s robots remind us that many dreams envisioned by man involve his talent for mechanical ingenuity. Far from being a criticism, this is a homage to man’s creative capacity.
The character of Isabelle, Méliès’ niece and Hugo’s friend, contributes a lot to this point. Her thirst for literature nurtures a profound desire for adventure. She’s the personification of a dream chaser. She thinks big and is always looking to escape a routine life full of cogs which turn to a mechanic rhythm. In her, we hear an echo of that desire of infinity, experienced by each person, that invites us to break free from the routine, from a meaningless conventionalism that ends up trimming and reducing the final horizon.
Nowadays, we are used to marveling at the impressive advances of technology and human ingenuity. Hugo invites us look again at the human person: a creature infinitely more complex and marvelous than the most dazzling of inventions. It never hurts to recognize the creative gift we all possess, manifested magnificently in the movie in the theatrical illusions of magic. What’s more, in a character like Méliès, these can be the first step to transforming a lethargic gaze into one full of amazement. Although the movie doesn’t seem to speak of it, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suppose that in considering this gift, he finds himself raising his eyes towards the One that gave it to him. Not the great architect or watchmaker of the nineteenth-century, but rather the Father who gives everything for his child.