Friday, January 27, 2012


The experience of Martin Scorsese’s newest (and some imply, greatest) film will vary depending on what sort of moviegoer you are.

To the filmmaker, the film historian, and academic it will be amazing. It will tap into interests you already share with Scorsese—it is made with you in mind. Thus the eleven nominations from the Academy this year.

To the average moviegoer, looking for entertaining escapism or a fun bit of fantasy, it will be a mixed and fragmented experience compared to what you are accustomed. It will likely be both engaging and frustratingly distracted. Thus the poor performance at the box office.

The truth of the matter is that it should land somewhere in the middle.

It is a fine example of artistry from a storyteller who just happens to be more engaged in a technical exercise than a story this time around. There are stories here, several in fact; they just don’t all tie into each other thematically. About half-way through the picture, the story that we have become invested in—the world of the titular character that we are dazzled by—comes to a conclusion. At that point the film becomes an exercise in nostalgia (the unofficial theme of cinema in 2011) and a love letter to the early days of film.

All that being said there is a thematic continuity to the film. Early on as Hugo works to repair an automaton and reconnect with his father the viewer is bombarded with ideas about purpose, the search for significance and meaning. Later on the theme is not just implied, Hugo and Isabelle have a lengthy conversation about purpose and the design of the universe. Hugo shares his belief:

“I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.”

But this film is not as simplistic as that. The world is not a fatalistic machine. We are not simply automatons programmed to success. While we do have purpose in life, we also have free will and there are obstacles to overcome. The film explores these ideas as Hugo and Isabelle have to work to help her Godfather regain his sense of meaning. That task is not a fact of destiny. There are circumstances that could prevent their success; and they have to take risks and work together. In the end, even the people they seek to help have a part to play.

1 comment:

  1. I am only an occasional movie-goer (though i the past few years of retirement I've been catching-up via rentals), and "distracting" was my first comment coming out of the theater, referring to the use of the 3D. However, I did think the 3D was well done and drew one's attention to features that would engage teens, preteens and younger.

    The story/stories were interesting -the more-so when it dawned on me that this was a Scorsese film. And, you're right, it was about halfway through when I thought I was being lost, until I was able to pick-up the thread.

    I'm not so good at critique of acting, partly because its so far beyond what I could do, that I sometimes err on the side of plus. But I did think the acting was good; I wasn't put off by it. With one exception.

    This really bugged me: Set in France, Paris, I believe, and the actors all had British accents! I cannot speak French but would have settled for sub-titles, or at very least, French inflections.


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