The first minutes of Hugo are everything that movies first promised us — a new creation, another way of seeing this world, compositions bursting with details and colors, minor characters whose small moments let slip the outlines of their entire lives, a protagonist instantly sympathetic and compelling. Oh, and we fly through a dreamlike Paris. This movie is Scorsese telling everyone, “This is what I have done with my life. Haven’t I been so lucky to have fallen in love with all this?”
In Hugo an orphan lives inside a clock in a great railway station in the heart of the greatest city of the world. Terribly alone, he is threatened by a persecutor of strays and urchins, a man and his huge dog; dressed all in blue, he scuttles after him on a mechanical leg. The boy tends an automaton who may possess a secret message from his father. He meets an old man, an artist of illusions and dreams, but the old man is embittered and broken. He believes his work has been destroyed. The boy seeks to break the spell of his loneliness and to rescue the old man.
Maybe all great stories are fairy tales – a man with a lightning bolt scar dividing his body in two searches the oceans for the white whale that hurt him. A young woman, facing the possibility of a life of loneliness and poverty, defies an arrogant ‘prince’ and then captures his heart. A young man, broken by grief, is confronted by his father’s ghost who beseeches him to avenge him. Three sons, the heirs of a King, are bound to their fates by blood and a brutal code of life.
I go to the movies to leave my outside life behind. I sit down on a rising incline, and thus, unobstructed, watch astonishing things made gigantic. In front of me light fills a screen the size of a cottage. All around me others sit in the darkness looking up at everything that dazzles.
In these places movies are not television where phones and pauses for food and conversation break up our seeing, our enchantment. We cannot stop and start them here. We must sit for hours, captured, wonderful hostages.
Take your children to Hugo, your wives and husbands, your lover, your parents, your bosom friends, benign, laughing strangers, anyone who loves the spell we embrace when, gathered together, the lights fall, and we all raise our eyes in expectation of miracles.