Any other seventeen year old can see that the paternal figures in Hugo represent a cultural fatherhood as it does with a biological one. That our eponymous hero Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) status as an orphan living in a train station is a break from that said culture and identity. And his self-appointed mission to fix the automaton that his father (Jude Law) has brought home from the museum where the latter works is symbolic of him repatriating himself. The he in convinced that the automaton has a message for him that stems from the belief that the objects our forbears leave us says a lot about them and ourselves.
John Logan, screenwriter and Martin Scorsese, director adapted this movie from Brian Selznick’s children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” And as a necessary evil, Hugo’s life is full of coincidences, his notebook of the drawings of the automatons catches the eye and anger of a man named Papa Georges (Shutter Island alum Ben Kingsley), who owns the top shop from which Hugo steals. That Hugo can’t even utter why he has the notebook points to how stunted he is. Papa Georges takes the notebook, a part of Hugo’s journey then being to recover it, going to the former’s through a cemetery, a setting so visualized out that it inescapably became overt symbolism.
Anyway, Papa Georges is actually acclaimed silent filmmaker George Melies, almost lost in movie history until Hugo and Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) rediscover him in the early 1930’s (I imagine a more boring story, Tabard or some twenty-something assistant finding Melies through records or whatnot, but we like this story better for reasons of our own). Pointing out Papa Georges is a case example shows how loss doesn’t only occur through accidents but through adult self-will. He almost shuns movies because he believes that his contributions are no longer wanted, because he’ll never have a comeback because those things aren’t supposed to happen.
Speaking of which, the movie, being from a children’s lit source material, only shows the development and evolution of a child through its connections with the father. But whatever is missing through the Hugo-father-Georges story lines is shown through other story lines and connections within the characters. There’s the limitation or lack of Hugo’s adolescent phase, the loss he experiences or his survivalist induced kleptomania don’t count as that. His adolescent phase is shown through the world falling out of Georges’ movies the same way a person outgrows movies or cultural pieces they used to love as children. ‘Films have the power to capture dreams,’ as Hugo quotes his father describing a movie the latter has seen as a child.
But that fantastical quality is also George’s biggest disadvantage, as most of the children who have seen and loved his films have experienced the war and other misfortunes and have wanted other movies if none at all. The lightest genres they can tolerate are social commentaries disguised as comedies, as evinced by Harold Lloyds and Charlie Chaplins. And time moves on, as sound in movies demand that even those slapstick silent movies have to become relics. Thankfully, not everyone grows into adolescence or adulthood, that Hugo and Rene, instead of sporting battle scars and limps, use their first childhood encounters with beauty and magic to continue into great artistry. Their much derided interests can show the other grown-ups that dreams can come true in a big screen. They even have to remind Georges that.
The second thing missing directly from Hugo as a character but is well and alive through traces around him is the female presence. The only thing we know from his mother is his father’s words of her English provenance. There are slightly stronger examples. Hugo’s love interest Isabelle (Chloë Moretz, her grating accent scaring me of what Les Miserables might be like this year) instinctively chooses to dig up her godfather Georges’ past with Hugo – both calling it an adventure – her precociousness disregards that she can possibly hurt Georges’ feelings and instead views this as her right to know about his past or about anything. She probably chooses this as punishment for her godfather banning her to watch movies.
She lacks the protective instincts that her godmother Mama Jeanne has, but she still has a stake on the resurfacing of Georges’ work, her role as his actress and muse being a great contribution to his work. Rene’s compliments confirm her share within early cinema. There’s also the woman selling flowers in the train station (Shutter Island co-alum Emily Mortimer) revealing to the Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) that her brother died in the same war that has gotten him injured. I resent giving masculine-dominated movies brownie points for writing one line for each female character or something (which is an exaggeration I admit but come on, why give Emily Mortimer such a small role?). But these women and men surprise each other with their shared history, and these revelations support and cement the connections that these characters have.
There are a few silver linings to being an orphan (or yes, fan girls and boys, to Jude Law dying. The movie visualizes his death forgettably, as paper-thin fires consume a museum, one of equally paper-thin looking sets. Anyway….). First is the connections that these grownups forge under his voyeuristic eye, that these workers and shopkeepers and regulars organically create a familial rapport. That these are older versions of his lonely self, and that they can cure their anomie.
Second is that Hugo’s orphan-hood allows him to dig twice as hard and in many different directions to discover himself. Let’s think about his direct provenance – he’s a son and nephew of repairmen and he would have stayed that way had these elder men lived. I don’t want to romanticize him living in a train station by himself. The other train station orphan shows what hygienic state Hugo could have been in. But the station also represents multifaceted urban stimuli and he could also have followed the examples of those around him. A cafe owner, a flower sales rep, a station inspector (Gustave also being an orphan), a librarian, an Indian Chief, you know how the Imperial nursery rhyme goes. For a person who belongs nowhere, like an apprentice in Confucius’ world, the choices are endless. And as much as there are people like Gustave who wants to lock him up or the characters who think he’s invisible but there are others like Georges and Rene who give him a chance.
Lastly, I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling repairmen. If anything Georges just saw himself as a box cranker and a vaudeville act – a man with a bigger sense of entitlement would have probably died instead of reducing himself as a toy shop keeper. But as Hugo’s father saw potential in an automaton that the museum didn’t want to display, these stray young characters’ constant search has great results. As much as this movie is about the characters’ returning home, it’s also about appreciating the utilitarian craft, a 20th century fight and attitude towards unappreciated art forms. The other characters have thought as a rickety few hours of escapism, Hugo and Rene’s mission was to convince everyone that they have experienced movies as magic.
“I hate the ocean, it’s for tools!”
Also, this is my post for today even if y’all are talking about the Oscars. Suck it.
Hey, it’s a trend! Besides, I promised Norman Wilner over Twitter to make a bazillion stupid lists for 2010 before they stop being cool. This was the dumbest, most shallow and most sexist idea I could come up with, second to ‘Greatest uses of the word ‘fuck’ and other curses in movies in 2010.’ Not that he’ll remember any of this. Anyway, all the women are listed by when the first time I saw them on-screen. All women also get the January Jones/Betty Draper Award nomination for the most violent female character in 2010. You decide the winner.
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), for redefining vengeance and investigating those who hate women. May your shoes be filled well.
Jenny the Great White Buffalo (Lyndsy Fonseca) stabs Adam (John Cusack) with a plastic fork. That’s what he gets for telling a girl she’s fat.
Mal (Marion Cotilliard), who shoots and stabs you in your subconscious.
Knives Chau, the toughest Canadian. Don’t mess with us Asians, especially actress Ellen Wong with a breakthrough performance.
Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) who, after being dethroned as the prima ballerina, stabs herself in the face screaming ‘I’m perfect!’ ‘I’m perfect!’ ‘I’m perfect!’
Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), a Mossad Agent sparring with her partners, trying to find the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jasper Christensen).
Abby, in this remake, with a soulful protrayal by young Chloe Moretz, still hungry for her daily subsistence.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who will tell you that you’re employed by her and she will capture and kill Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
Charlene (Amy Adams), who will rip your hair out if you call her a skank. You’re crazy.
Bellatrix (Helena Bonham-Carter), who makes Hermione (Emma Watson) scream for her oblviated parents.
Now Sally, go play.
In Let Me In, director Matt Reeves blatantly uses the original Swedish Let The Right One In as a starting point, but Rear Window references come within this film as well. The first references is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) spying on his neighbors in his apartment complex with a telescope. The telescope scene reminds me of how many blue irises the film features. He spies on adults more sexually capable than he is – a good-looking, moody couple and a man lifting weights in his apartment. It’s strange them when Owen notices that the new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her father (Richard Jenkins) have their windows boarded up. The second reference is when Abby’s father pops up from a backseat of a car, attacking a young man while the train passes by. Lights from the train or the tracks flash and the screen turns red as an old man attacks. With the exception of these red flashes, blue and white dominate the film, but even those colours come off as somehow warmer in this film than the original. We’ll have Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser to thank for all of those.
Michael Giacchino created the film’s score, but it sounds more like Hans Zimmer. Owen’s mother is barely visible in the film. I guessed Ali Larter, but I got slightly mad when I found out that she is played by the talented Cara Buono.
The film exposes the source material’s themes without spoon-feeding it to the audience. Smit-McPhee’s Owen is more sickly compared to the twinky in the original, and Moretz’ Abby is more gross yet slightly more emotional than Lina Leandersson’s Elin. The tone of their interactions are more varied and have an arc, Owen’s voice creaking a bit when he tries to talk to the new girl, both of them as awkward as kids in their situation would be. This awkwardness is heightened by Abby, of course, being a vampire. They’re more combative, both crossing the lines of their friendship, daring each other, testing each other’s humanity and compassion, finding out whether one would help the other. We’ll have Reeves and the actors to thank for that as well.