Friday, December 09, 2011
Movie Review: Hugo
Martin Scorsese's latest doesn't involve Leonardo DiCaprio in period garb. Thank goodness. Instead, it's set in 1920's Paris and tells the story of a little boy named Hugo. Orphaned after his watchmaker father dies in a fire, Hugo is taken to a train station by an alcoholic Uncle and told that if he maintains the stations' clocks, he can live in the shabby, forgotten apartments above. So Hugo enters into a hidden world behind the surface of the station- peering out of walls as he scurries from clock to clock, oiling and winding them. He comes to know familiar faces as he goes about his daily work, but never speaks to any of them, preferring to live in secret with the gears and cogs of machines.
After his work is through, he tinkers with a beautiful silver automoton that he and his father had been restoring from the havoc of rust and time. This humanoid machine is meant to write when all it's pieces are running properly, but it is exceptionally complicated. Now that Hugo's father is gone, his only guide is his father's beautifully drawn notebook. The trouble is finding parts for his little machine- every piece is tiny and carefully made. There is a little toy shop in the station, and Hugo takes to stealing parts from the odd windup toy.
But one day, the toy shop owner catches him in the act and takes the notebook and Hugo is pulled out of his secret mechanical world and into the human one at last.
The story plays with the metaphor of what it means to be human in a world of machines. This is a central problem of modern life, and many artists and writers seem to return to the turn of the century to help them think about it. (Steampunk anyone?) Back then, most of those machines were made by human hands and it took human ingenuity to help them continue to run. Now, so much of our world is run by machines with parts made by machines and controlled by even more machines that we have become unconscious of them. I suspect this very complexity is the reason so many people are interested in going back to the land, or supporting hand made cottage industry.
Mr. Scorcese's answer to this question seems to be that creativity is the thing that helps us to be human in a world of technology and mechanization. It helps us to make sense of a world that isn't always ordered and precise like a piece of clockwork. Imagination is what makes us special and it is what will save us from becoming machines ourselves. It helps us to love and dream and what could be more human than that?
I can't recommend this movie heartily enough. It was beautiful and deeply moving. I can't wait to see it again.