No one can truly understand the emotional loss and feelings of helplessness that orphan feels, unless they have experienced the same tremendous loss. However, the new family adventure film Hugo offers all viewers the insight of the solitude these orphans experience, and allows them to sympathize with the down-on-his-luck title character. While the movie is predominately aimed towards children, adults will also surely appreciate the film’s major theme, 3D technology and special effects.
Hugo follows the 12-year-old title character (Asa Butterfield), an orphan brought to live in the walls of a train station in 1930’s Paris by his Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone). After his father (Jude Law) died in a fire, Hugo is forced to drop out of school and begin winding the station’s clocks, like his uncle. When Uncle Claude mysteriously disappears, and isn’t heard from again, Hugo continues to wind the clocks on his own. In the process, he struggles to remain out of sight of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who grew up an orphan himself. Not wanting any kids running around the station unattended, the inspector is eager to send all unsupervised, mischievous children he can find to an orphanage.
Also on a mission to remain close to his father, Hugo steals tools from the toy shop in the station, which is run by Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). After being caught by the store owner, Hugo becomes upset when Georges takes his father’s notebook. Hugo is determined to get the book back, as it contained his father’s mechanical drawings, including the automaton he found in an abandoned museum. While trying to get the book back, Hugo finds an unlikely ally in fellow orphan Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), who happens to be the goddaughter of, and lives with, Georges. Together, the two teens make Georges embrace life and learn to love again.
Martin Scorsese was the perfect choice to helm the family adventure film, which is based on Brian Selznick’s New York Times bestselling book The Invention of Hugo Cabret; the director truly understood Hugo’s connection to his father and it showed in the film. The Academy Award-winning director bonded with his father, Charles, as they watched films together in New York City in the 1940s and ’50s and Scorsese is skillfully able to connect to Hugo’s love of the cinema. He also understands the boy’s fascination with machines and desire to work and fix mechanical objects, no matter what the consequences are.
Despite only being 14 years old, Butterfield was perfectly cast as the main protagonist in Hugo. The young actor has stated that he finds the mystery of his character’s background to be appealing. Without having any details about Hugo’s relationship with his deceased mother, and only appearing in one scene with Law, Butterfield still flawlessly portrayed his character as an innocent young boy who needed to be protected. While living on his own since his uncle disappeared, Hugo learned to take care of himself, but longed to be reunited with his parents, something Butterfield conveyed perfectly. He only allowed himself to open up to other people when he met Isabelle and Butterfield dramatically matured his character over the course of the film.
Moretz was also perfectly cast as Isabelle, as she instantly took on the girl’s caring and protective personality. Despite barely knowing Hugo, she readily agreed to help him reclaim his notebook from her Papa Georges. Isabelle would do anything to help her new friend, even if she has to face the consequences herself at home. An orphan herself, Isabelle also understood Hugo’s determination to keep his father’s belongings, in an effort to stay close to him. Moretz portrayed the whole range of emotions that Isabelle goes through wonderfully and she was a delight to watch.
Butterfield and Moretz perfectly complemented each other on screen; like their characters, she had a take charge, outgoing attitude, against his introverted personality. The actors’ distinctive temperaments balanced the emotions their respective characters felt for each other and the outside world. Initially, it seems unlikely that a girl in the early 1930s would be emotionally comforting a boy peer and having a more independent nature than he. However, audiencess will still sympathize with both Hugo and Isabelle, and will certainly relate to their fight to stand up for what they believe in.
Even with the young actors’ memorable performances, the sets were the most stunning aspect of Hugo. Effortlessly wanting to show the world though Hugo’s eyes, and create a balance of realism and myth, Scorsese’s tireless research into the era definitely showed in the film. With the help of researcher Marianne Bower, who looked at photographs from the time, and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, who visited multiple flea markets in French, the train stations had an authentic, colorful, Parisian look which helped draw us even further into the world that was crafted.
Scorsese also made a fantastic use of the 3D technology he included in Hugo. It effectively enhanced the story and the characters. Viewers feel as though they’re actually pulled into Hugo and Isabelle’s world, running through the train station right beside them. The 3D also highlights the emotional glances the title character and his new friend pass each other as they fight to fix his automaton.
People of all races, ages, social classes and time periods often feel the loneliness that accompanies the death of someone close to them, especially a parent. This includes two of the main protagonists in Hugo, the title character and his new friend Isabelle. Through the incredible casting by Scorsese, his new family adventure film expertly shows the powerful effects that meaningful relationships have on people. Plus, the director’s impressive use of 3D proves the technology isn’t just a gimmick, and it can truly enhance the story-line and visuals of a movie.
Through the incredible casting by Scorsese, his new family adventure film expertly shows the powerful effects that meaningful relationships have on people.