Upon viewing the initial trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo I was sceptical. Had Scorsese made a children’s film, aimed at the Harry Potter generation? As a fan of classic Scorsese (Taxi Driver being my favourite) I was taken aback. It seemed to me that this film didn’t have much to do with what made Scorsese’s previous work great; I expected tough guys, existential crisis, catholic guilt and guns. To me a story of a boy living in a train station, fixing mechanical objects, didn’t seem true to form. Clearly I knew nothing of Scorsese’s work, but Hugo enlightened me.
Hugo entwines the narrative of young orphan Hugo’s adventure to discover a message from his deceased father, and the biographically rooted story of French film director Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Méliès made over five hundred films from about 1896 to 1913, only to spend his last years living in relative poverty working at a toy store in the Montparnasse station, Paris. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) meets the bitter Méliès whilst trying to steal parts to fix an automaton, which he believes will fill the void his father’s death left him.
The automaton becomes a symbol of Hugo’s dreams and the dreams that Méliès once had, which were since crushed. In setting out to fix the automaton Hugo’s boyish aspirations come into conflict with Méliès cynicism. The story of childhood persistence versus adult bitterness is nothing new, but it rings true with a great vitality. Scorsese directs Hugo with a youthful visual approach, employing sweeping long takes and elaborate dream sequences which enchant us into Hugo’s world. This inventive direction is clearly fuelled by Scorsese’s own passion for the work of Méliès and of course cinema itself.
Scorsese is a filmmaker at his best when his work is both personal and driven by his intense passion for cinema. When Scorsese made Taxi Driver in the mid 1970’s, he was often equated with the troubled central character Travis Bickle and this contributed to the film’s authenticity. Like Taxi Driver, Hugo sees Scorsese taking on a character close to his heart. Watching the final scene of Hugo I realised that this film could perhaps be Scorsese’s most profound statement, representing his pure boyish love of cinema in the most moving way to date.