Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hugonic Themes

For me, Martin Scorsese has been a hit-and-miss director.  I thought Taxi Driver was brilliant, but disturbing, while Raging Bull was just disturbing and Goodfellas was unwatchable and disturbing.  I enjoyed Shutter Island and adore The Last Temptation of Christ.  But I had no questions about seeing Hugo, Scorsese's latest.  He is, at his worst, a capable director, and I enjoyed the volume it was based on, even though it wasn't that  memorable.

I found my experience with Hugo immensely enjoyable.  I laughed out loud, cried at the appropriate scenes and generally just enjoyed my time.  No, it wouldn't make my top 100 films, or 200, but there was a lot there to really appreciate.  And this without the 3D (I can't watch 3D, because it all looks fuzzy to me.  That's fine, cheaper tickets!).

So I went to my film buff friends and told the naysayers my opinion.  Everyone took it well and we had a fine conversation.  But it turns out that no one disagreed with the quality of the film.  Some took issue as to the interest it held to the viewer, and there was certainly a question as to whether Scorsese was making a children's film-- or IF he could make a children's film.  All of these questions were lesser, however.

The big disagreement was what the movie was actually about.  What is the Big Theme.

Everyone agreed there was a Big Theme, a central point to the film.  But we all thought it was something else.

The cinephiles among us saw this as an advertisement for film preservation.  Mr. Scorsese has been deeply involved in the World Cinema Foundation, and certainly a bit of propaganda for the work of finding and digitally preserving all kinds of film is found in the film.  On the other hand, this is also mentioned in the book, and it isn't a main theme, there, and the film closely follows the book.

One of the main indicators, however, that those who think old film preservation is the theme is that they are bored with the film, although they appreciate that theme.  To me, if the movie is about "one thing" and yet you think that most of the film is "nonsense" or "pointless", then perhaps, I propose, you have the wrong theme.  I think that the glory of cinema is A theme in the film, but I see no evidence that it is the central theme, or even a main one.

Another theme that is discussed is finding one's place in the world.  This aspect is certainly discussed in the film, and is important.  One critic mentioned that it is harped upon so much that she wanted to say "enough already!  I got it!"   I think that this is significant in the film, but there are different aspects that are drawn out.

First is the idea that everyone has his or her place-- that no one is left out.  Some may consider you insignificant or useless, but they are simply wrong, even foolish to believe it.  One can even say as much for the minor characters of the film.  Some characters may seem unimportant, but each one has their role to play in the overall story about Hugo-- because in the end, as the title says, the story is not about George Melise, but about the simple boy whose life is always teetering on disaster.

Secondly, the theme is emphasized that to accept that one has a place in the world on faith is not enough-- we must go out and find it.  The fact is, more often than not, our place has already been marked.  We just must accept it.  This is almost a fatalistic touch-- as if God has fashioned George Melise to be a magician with film, and it was simply George's responsibility to accept it.  Even as it is Hugo's destiny to be a boy who fixes things-- anything, even people.

Finally, having our place in the world isn't enough.  We must also have recognition of this place.  We all need a certain amount of honor, of the respect due the place we have in the world.  It would be great if it were appreciation, but at least we need to be looked at and have people say, "They belong here.  They do..." whatever it is we do.

While some might argue with the work-oriented purpose in life, in the end, recognition of one's work is something both old people and young people have in common.  The young person says, "I am working, will anyone see me as a real person because of it?"  And the old person says, "I have worked, will anyone recognize that my life has been worth something?"  Between those times, most of us are so focused on the work itself that we don't seek that place, or a recognition of that place.

But in the end, it is this whole set of themes that I loved about Hugo.  The fact is, it is a complex and compelling film.  And I think, as people look at it closer and see its greater worth than just a beautiful but pondering children's film-- because it demonstrates much more than the love of film-- rather it is the love of all people and all the work they do.  That is a wonderful message for all of us. 

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