Scorcese’s Hugo is a film that reminds viewers of the magic of movies. This fulfilling story is an adventure that engulfs the spectator, and its goal—which it achieves, masterfully—is to reinvigorate that feeling in viewers towards all of cinema.
There are several recurring motifs throughout the film: these include magic, machinery, and ticking clocks and clockwork. Apart from being a major theme (the magic of movies), the motif of magic is present in the story at the very beginning, at the start of Melies’ career; and this torch is passed to Hugo, who presumably goes on to become a magician at the film’s end. The motifs of machinery, grinding gears, and ticking clock work are interspersed throughout, from the film’s beginning in the clock tower, to the automaton, to the film projectors.
Themes include loneliness, its counterpart, companionship, and finding one’s place in the world. Hugo, a lonely orphan, desires companionship and, like many orphans, a family. The automaton is essentially Hugo’s mechanical savior, culminated when the automaton illuminates Hugo’s path, in the form of a drawing of the moon from Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. This drawing is Hugo’s map to a family and to a happy ending—although Melies in the film says happy endings only happen in movies, Scorcese refutes this by ending Hugo’s story happily. (Or is this an assertion of Melies’ statement, since Hugo is itself a film? That is up for interpretation.)
Other characteristics of the film that make it great include its beautiful mise-en-scène and heartfelt, emotionally drawing score. Although some of the intended visuals may be lost in a 2-D viewing of Hugo, its beautiful special effects are nonetheless notable. The somewhat low-key, backlight-heavy lighting also adds to the film’s magical tone. Supplementing the film’s stunning visuals is a heartwarming, extradiegetic musical score that certainly does its job in inviting interest; the film would not feel the same without it.
Hugo is a heartwarming story that is definitely worth the watch. This movie that is an homage to the magic of movies is, in itself, a magical movie.