No spoilers in this. In fact, my aim is to undo a false expectation about “Hugo” that may be keeping you from seeing this amazing movie.
“Hugo” is not about robots, animatronics, or a boy’s relation with a mechanical man. An automaton is an important part of the plot, but that’s not what this movie is about. BTW, “Hugo” is the boy’s name. The automaton doesn’t even have a name.
There are lots of reasons to like it because it works at many levels. Those levels are resonant, and deepen through their redundancy. Also, Chloe Moretz is in it, whose talent as a young teen already can only be measured in streeps.
But mainly I loved this movie because — in a way that is itself redundant with the movie’s content — the filmmaker’s technique turns it into an artwork. Martin Scorsese takes us through a movie that emotionally and aesthetically feels like one long tracking cut, although of course it isn’t. Most movies are constructed as a series of scenes. While “Hugo” has different settings and scenes, it plays without interruption. It’s the difference between traveling by plane and traveling by foot: Scorsese leads us along a path, sometimes walking, sometimes running, but it’s one continuous landscape. Crappy metaphor, but “Hugo” is as close to perfect movie construction as I’ve seen.
I’m not saying that “Hugo” is the greatest movie ever made, but it’s a
movie that makes the most of what a movie can be: so limitless in its ability to move us through spaces, so able to show us what’s going on inside by showing us surfaces, that it is the medium best suited to dreams. (as Norman Mailer once observed).
So, now let me de-hype it. “Hugo” is a wonderful movie, but it’s a small movie. I understand those who see it as sentimental. There are a couple of moments that don’t work. But I woke up thinking about yet more ways in which the movies scenes’ and ideas not only work together like a clock mechanism (you learn early on that Hugo winds the clocks in a Paris train terminal, so he is in effect part of that mechanical system), but reflect upon one another as analogies and correspondences in the Medieval sense…and this is too is what the movie is about.
So lower your expectations from this review and go see “Hugo” before the new Chipmunk movie pushes it off the big screen.