Following the story of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a 12-year-old orphan living within the walls of a clock tower in a train station during post-World War I Paris, Scorsese weaves a magical tale about finding purpose in the world. After the death of Hugo’s father (Jude Law) from a museum fire, Hugo has adopted his father’s pet project, repairing a broken robot that could handle paper and pen. The robot becomes a way for Hugo to connect with his father — naively believing if he could he could fix the machine, perhaps he would find what he had lost.
By accompanying Hugo on his journey, the audience gains insight on art and the film medium. From the first scene, “Hugo” captivates viewers with the sound of ticking clocks over a beautiful aerial view of snowy Paris. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is stunning as the camera zeros in on the minor cadences of the train station. This includes the romance and courtship of Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) at a coffee shop, the bumbling awkwardness and patrols of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who harbors a crush on a florist (Emily Mortimer) as well as the friendly camaraderie between Hugo and with Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of a toy repair shop owner who craves adventure. Although each cut may seem insignificant by itself, the layers seem to comment on the nature of human connection. Like art, it’s beautiful and like parts in a machine, the characters are all linked.
The backbone of the movie’s breathtaking images, metaphors and messages is the original score by composer Howard Shore. At times, the orchestra is whimsical and at others it’s gorgeous or dramatic, but Shore’s composition creates the mood for romance and adventure. The music becomes the driving pulse of the movie — narrating the joys and tragedies — that when the soundtrack stops for short scenes of dialogue, one notices the absence. Shore is known for orchestrating the music in the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy and “Silence of the Lamb” as well as working with Scorsese on previous projects such as “The Departed” and “The Aviator.” In “Hugo,” Shore’s music effectively transports the viewer into the world of 1930s Paris.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t have been such as success if not for the superb acting of the cast. Fourteen-year-old actor Asa Butterfield, known for his break out role as Mordred in the BBC’s television show “Merlin” as well as his role as Bruno in the film “The Boy in Striped Pajamas,” is able to express emotions and evokes compassion from the viewer when tears well up in his eyes when he remembers his father’s death or when he’s shivering in shorts while marching in the snow after George Melies (Ben Kingsley), a world-weary toy repairman and one of the founding fathers of the motion picture.
The magic of “Hugo” is the blending of cinematic picture and sound with life lessons and worldly insights. The message, “Time is everything,” is echoed throughout the walls of the ticking movie’s setting. There is also an element about discovering one’s role in the larger machine and believing in dreams, magic and imagination — which what one might argue, are what seeing movies are all about.
“Hugo” was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan. It is based off the book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick.
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