Why Would Monday Movies’s Key Fit Into Your Machine?
“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine,” says orphaned Hugo, who lives in the wall at the train station, taking care of the giant clockworks. “Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” Hugo, it turns out, is correct in every particular but one.
Hugo’s fascination with machines comes from the family business. As a younger boy, he helped his father repair timepieces. After his father died in a fire, he went to live in the hidden chambers of the train station, taking only the mysterious automaton he and his father were repairing together. He hopes one day to find the key that will fit the automaton’s heart-shaped lock, and release the message from his father that he knows must be hidden inside.
Hugo the movie (dir. Martin Scorcese), adapted from the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, is a wonder and a delight, a soulful children’s adventure movie with no condescension at all. It’s also beautiful to look at, the first 3-D movie whose use of 3-D I enjoyed all the way through. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) will investigate the mystery of his father’s automaton with the help of Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), the abecedarian bookworm daughter of a train station shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley); his foil is Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen [!]), the war-injured station master whose icy, orphan-arresting heart yearns to be melted by the station’s flower peddler (Emily Mortimer). Mixed in with the adventure is an ever-so-slightly fictionalized biopic of Georges Méliès, the proto-surrealist French film pioneer whose most famous work was A Trip To The Moon.
By uncovering Méliès’s history, Hugo finds his own place in the world. But his journey undermines his original proposition about the clockwork world in which he plays his part. That philosophy’s reductio is stated by Inspector Gustav, who, upon throwing Hugo into a cell before dispatching him to the orphanage, cries that it was his own time as an orphan that prepared him to play his role and remain alone.
But Hugo only moves down the path to finally understanding connection and family (not to mention Gustav’s) because of the existence of extra machine parts–from the automaton’s original fabrication, in fact. The extra parts that Hugo supposes can’t exist are what give rise to both of the stories Scorcese tells here, Méliès’s life in film as well as Hugo’s investigation. There’s no end of clockworks in the movie, but its final suggestion is not that we are put in place in a perfectly moving machine, but that our stories and our connections only happen because machines are imperfect with excess.
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