The orphan boy in the new Scorsese-directed picture titled “Hugo” was the invention of accidental author Brian Selznick, who fully expected to do theater design work until the popularity of his books, including “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” caused him to shift gears.
Shifting gears, stolen time and secrets unlocked by the heart figure prominently in Selznik’s tale — which also features an orphaned girl. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a hidden portion of the Paris train station, while Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretze) lives with a couple she calls Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory) and Pappa Georges (Ben Kingsley).
Hugo adores movies, but Isabelle lives for books — often shared with her by a man named Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbearg). Georges is convinced that he’s been robbed somehow, while his wife does her best to keep what little they have left safe and secure. Music by Howard Shore makes clear the tenuousness of her mission.
Other couples, all seemingly mismatched somehow, populate this movie — which features screenplay by John Logan. A staunch station conductor (Sasha Baron Cohen) obsessed with sending errant children to jail seeks the heart of a demure flower seller named Lisette (Emily Mortimer). An older man named Monsier Frick (Richard Griffiths) who lacks animal magnetism pursues a woman named Emilie (Frances de la Tour) who sits each day with her dog at a train station cafe.
But two other characters, neither of them human, sit at the center of Hugo’s world. An automaton, or self-operating machine (created by Dick George), who sits at a desk with quill in hand. And the fictional man on the moon. As the movie unfolds, like a delicate piece of origami art undone step by step, their role in creating and stirring memories grows more clear.
Most of the movie’s characters have been profoundly touched by tragedy, but the intersection of their lives begins fixing what’s broken. “Hugo” is at once a mystery, an adventure tale and a testament to the healing power of humanity — appreciated most fully by teen and adult audiences.
It’s also a love letter of sorts to masters of film and the art of storytelling. Author Selznick notes that Georges Méliès (Pappa Georges in the movie) was a famous filmmaker who worked from the 1890s through the 1920s. “He made the world’s first science fiction movie,” says Selznick. “It was really magical and strange.” It’s high praise, and no less true of the movie “Hugo.”
Note: Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” earned a Caldecott Medal. Click here to read Selznick’s acceptance speech, which recounts his journey from childhood to children’s author and describes the origins of the boy named Hugo.
Coming up: Showing too much leg, A movie sneak peek from NYC