Martin Scorsese loves film.
A peerless forty year career has seen the director mimic, inspire and improve on some of the greatest moments and devices in the history of the movies. It is no surprise therefore that his latest work, Hugo, is not only a deeply personal love letter to youthful wonder and the childish sense of adventure, but also to the masterpieces and master craftsmen of early cinema.
Hugo is an orphan living in a Paris train station in the 1930s. He spends his days among the cogs and wheels of the station's clock towers, scrounging what food he can, while obsessively reconstructing an automaton left him by his father. His efforts bring him into contact with a man, George Melies (Ben Kingsley), who has a mysterious connection to his deceased father, and who holds a secret past he is desperate to keep hidden. Scorsese uses the full gamut of 3D techniques and his well-documented eye for detail to create a rich and beguiling world which Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) and his accomplice Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) fill with their imagination and joy of discovery, drawing us into their journey and the magical realm of film-making.
Scorsese’s strongest characters are often the anti-heroes – men of complexity and uncertain morals, though almost always in search of some kind of redemption. It's a sign of the affection he has for this material that in Hugo every character is imbued with a warmth and sympathy. Even the slightly unhinged station inspector – played with borderline insanity by a wonderful Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, Borat!) – finds purpose through love in one of the wonderfully quirky sub-plots dotted throughout.
Behind this beautifully realised passion project is the movie’s core theme; that you can “fix” someone by helping them discover, or rediscover their purpose in the world. Just as in a machine everything has its place and function, meditates Hugo towards the film’s finale, likewise every person is a part of the grand machine of life, each having their own purpose to fulfil. Scorsese has always been a master of portraying the unspoken darkness and uncertainty that lurks in people’s lives, but with Hugo he uncovers something far more profound and fundamental – hope.
Words by Ali Bianchi