3 Stars — Troubling

When children are cherished and parents are involved, those children are likely to find their place and purpose. But in a world where parents have died or are dismissive, the children struggle not only to find their place but also their purpose. That is the message of Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo.

Based on a book by Brian Selznick and adapted for the screen by veteran writer John Logan (The Aviator, Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis), Scorsese’s style is artistic but disturbing. The film has an eerie feel and troubling scenes that we don’t recommend for younger children.

Set in Paris soon after World War I, the title role of Hugo Cabret is played by Asa Butterfield. Having lost his mother, Hugo is raised by a creative father (Jude Law) who is a watch-maker and a curator at the museum, and that is where he comes across a unique automaton. Discarded by the museum, the automaton is no longer able to fulfill its “purpose,” not only because it is damaged, but also because its heart-shaped key is missing. This key symbolically and literally unlocks the mystery of the tale.

The young girl in the story is Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). The God-daughter of Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) and his wife, Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory), Isabelle and her family are in a broken place expressed not only by Isabelle’s orphaned state but by Georges’ pervasive sadness as well. It is the friendship of Hugo and Isabelle that brings healing to all of their lives.

Some comic relief is provided by the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who watches over the train station where Hugo lives in hiding while taking care of the many mechanical clocks that guide the station.

While the message of accepting ourselves, our past and our future is an important truth, in the end, the film feels shallow because of its lack of transcendent meaning and purpose. This is seen not only in the lack of providing an understanding of why Georges so deeply grieves the past, but it is also seen in the simplistic philosophy of Hugo and his belief in purpose.

While it is true that every person has infinite worth and an eternal purpose, the belief that we are simply parts of a complex machine implies that there is not much difference between us and the eerie heart-missing automaton.


» The message that the automaton is missing its heart is a clear analogy that people can also lose their hearts. Regardless of whether the heart is broken or missing, the result is the same. Have you found your heart? If so, what has happened in your life since you found your heart?

» It is difficult to make it in life even with parents. But due to Hugo’s orphaned state, he is able to bring healing into Isabelle, Georges and Mama Jeanne’s lives. How have the difficult experiences in your life made you better able to help others?

» It is not possible for any of us to know the future, but we can know the people with whom we are going to share the future. How have you found others to share your life and future?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.