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Film / Hugo

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"If you've ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around... this is where they're made."

Hugo is a 2011 adventure film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Johnny Depp. It is based on the Caldecott Medal-winning children's novel The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, grandnephew of legendary film producer David O. Selznick. It stars Asa Butterfield as an orphan boy who lives in a train station in 1930s Paris and whose only companion is an automaton discovered by his late father. He devotes his life to making sure the clocks run on time and to gradually repairing the automaton, under the belief that the message it is designed to write is a message from his father.

One day, he gets caught stealing a toy from Papa Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley), a melancholy man who runs a toystore inside the station. He finds the notebook Hugo carries containing drawings of the automaton by his father. Papa Georges takes the notebook, threatening to burn it. With the help of Papa Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), Hugo tries to get the notebook back and use it to discover the secret of the automaton. Along the way, he discovers the secret of Papa Georges, including his real name.


Also starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Helen McCrory, Ray Winstone, and Michael Stuhlbarg, it is notable for being Scorsese's first family-oriented film as well as his first shot in 3D. It is considered Scorsese's love letter to silent cinema.

Brian Selznick also wrote a companion book to the film, The Hugo Movie Companion, about how his novel was adapted to the screen.

Not to be confused with the Hugo video game series.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The Station Inspector, who is a standard Punch-Clock Villain in the original novel. Here, he gets his own subplot about being a cripple who pines for the station's flower saleswoman, and the reveal that he grew up as an orphan like Hugo.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick, the cafe owner and newspaper vendor, respectively. In the book, their only contributions were to call for Hugo's arrest by the Station Inspector, as they recognize him as having stolen their respective wares during his time in the station. The film shows them partaking in friendly interaction with each other and Inspector Gustave, and when Gustave apprehends Hugo, they argue in favor of his release as they aren't aware he's done anything wrong.
  • Adult Fear:
    • You die, and your child ends up first with an abusive alcoholic and then completely alone.
    • Your whole life had been meaningless, your lifework had been destroyed and everyone has forgotten you.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • Automata, clockwork robots that could perform pre-determined feats, have existed since the 16th century. Cruder automatons powered by levers and wind existed before that.
    • Color movies during the silent era of filmmaking. As explained in the film, the filmmakers hand-colored each frame with ink. Actual color photography was possible even before this era, but it would have been impractically difficult to create an entire film this way.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Hugo's crimes are listed as: "Trespass, theft, pilfering, littering... mmmmlering... walking about... playing..."
  • Author Appeal: All of the talk of the importance of early film and its preservation is Scorsese himself speaking to you. Michael Stuhlbarg even grew out his eyebrows for his character in tribute to him.
  • Based on a True Story: Sort of. The character of Hugo is entirely fictional, but the life of Georges Méliès as presented in the film is pretty accurate.
    • Hugo's clockwork boy is based on Maillardet's automaton, a real-life writing automaton whose history parallels its movie counterpart: It was built by a mechanical genius, damaged in a fire, donated to a museum, had its origins forgotten, and was eventually repaired by a clockwork enthusiast, whereupon its automated drawings provided a clue to its maker's identity.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Hugo is going to be run over by an approaching train the Station Inspector pulls him off of the tracks just in time.
  • Clock Punk: The massive station clocktower, Papa George's clockwork toys, Hugo's old home filled with clockwork, the clockwork automaton, and the clockwork leg brace. The heavy use of fantastical clockwork can make one forget that the film is supposed to be set in a fairly realistic 1931 rather than a Victorian sci-fi setting.
  • Color Wash: As in-universe Aluminium Christmas Trees: clips of old silent movies played in the film were hand-coloured, creating a dreamy, phantasmagoric atmosphere.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Oh, quite a bit of it. For example, the Automaton which was taken by Hugo's father, just so happened to draw a picture from the movie Hugo's father saw. And it just so happened that Hugo lived in the same train station where the man who made both the Automaton and the film worked. Justified though - Hugo believes that the world is a giant machine. There are no coincidences, but only parts moving as they should.
  • Cool Train: Since the movie takes place in a busy station, there's a train visible or railroad noise in the background of almost every scene.
  • Covered in Gunge: Oh dear, the Station Inspector is about to slide into a gigantic cake. Then promptly subverted, as he winds up crashing into the band instead.
  • Creepy Child: Hugo to most who don't know him, mostly since his troubled past causes him to close himself off to many.
    Isabelle: Being enigmatic doesn't suit you!
  • Cute Bookworm: Isabella is a reader who is desired by Hugo.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Hugo is having a nightmare where he gets killed by a train, which then derails and crashes through the station window. (The crash is based on a real one, and replicated in exact detail.) He has a false awakening in where he turns into the automaton. Then he wakes up for real. Later in the film, Hugo jumps in front of an approaching train, after he drops the automaton onto the tracks. The train crew reacts exactly as they did in the dream, but the Station Inspector pulls Hugo off of the tracks, and the train doesn't crash.
  • The Edwardian Era: The flashback scenes take place here and in the very late Victorian era. The story proper takes place in 1931.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Within the first minute of the movie we see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and the latter is visible from the main clock on the train station.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite often being a Jerkass and getting kicked in his injured leg, Gustav still helps Hugo off the train tracks.
  • Evil Cripple: Played with where the Station Inspector is concerned - his bad leg is treated as one of his biggest humanizing elements.
  • Genre-Busting: A bizarre Bio Pic of a famous silent-era film director full of Steampunk elements, Street Urchin adventure tropes, and highbrow references for cinephiles and art majors.
  • Given Name Reveal: Papa Georges' name is revealed when the automaton signs its picture Georges Melies and Isabelle recognizes it. Finding the significance of it, on the other hand, requires a trip to the Film Academy Library.
  • Groin Attack: The Station Inspector's crotch runs into some luggage while he's being dragged by the train.
  • Happily Adopted: Isabelle, by her Godparents, Papa Georges and Mama Jeanne. And in the finale, Hugo by them as well.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Papa Georges: Actually Georges Méliès, acclaimed film director from the silent movie era, who has lived for decades with the heartbreak of believing that his life's work is all gone and meant nothing.
    • The Station Inspector: His leg was crippled in World War I, and beneath his stern, relentless persona is a lonely man who is harsh on orphans because it reminds him of the pain of being one himself.
  • Hypocrite: Georges keeps calling Hugo a thief, all while keeping his notebook. In his defense, though, he didn't think the notebook belonged to Hugo at first.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • It turns out that Papa Georges is actually the filmmaker Georges Méliès.
    • James Joyce, Django Reinhardt, and Salvador Dalí appear in the background.
  • Holding Hands: Hugo gives Isabelle's hand a squeeze when she's worried about Papa Georges.
  • Left the Background Music On: A few of the scenes in the station had their music provided by a band in a restaurant, most notably the first chase scene between Hugo and the Station Inspector.
  • Lighter and Softer: Easily the lightest, most cheerful film ever directed by Scorsese, which is quite rare considering the usual content of his films. While it still has its fair share of dark moments, it's TV-PG and never goes beyond the TV-PG range of content.
  • Malignant Plot Tumor: The movie looks like it will be about mechanics and trains (and the former does play an important part of the plot). But then Hugo mentions seeing the film adaptation of a book and we eventually learn that this is really a movie about... movies. The transition is handled very well, as the film takes pains to show that a movie is like a machine with many moving parts.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Station Inspector's initial conversation with Lisette is played for broad laughs, until his leg brace suddenly locks up again. Cue the very not-funny revelation that his leg was badly injured in fighting during World War I, which is the first sign of his Hidden Depths.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Hugo gets hit with two of them back-to-back. One involving him getting hit by a train and the other where he turns into an Automaton. It's a little... jarring.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: Very much so. Just look at the poster!
  • Out of Focus: Once Papa Georges is identified the story starts becoming more and more about him and less about Hugo in the latter portion of the film.
  • Parental Bonus: At the end of the movie Gustav remarks that he is a "fully functioning man" and asks his girlfriend for corroboration.
  • Photographic Memory: Monsieur Labisse knows the exact location not only of every book in his shop, but also the Film Academy Library as well.
  • Pick a Card: After Papa Georges starts teaching Hugo card tricks, he's shown practicing in his room, holding up a card to the automaton and asking, "Is this your card?"
  • Poor Communication Kills: Hugo could've potentially gotten more information about the automaton much sooner if he'd been honest and told Georges about it at the beginning of the film.
  • The Queen's Latin: The entire cast speaks with British accents despite all of the characters being French. The actual French that they do speak, however, is spoken with a French accent. All of the written text is also in French.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Bookworm Isabelle clearly enjoys trotting out ten-dollar words. She compliments Hugo when he lets loose with one of his own.
  • Shout-Out: Many to classic silent films.
    • Hugo hanging off of the clock hands is a shout out to Safety Last! by Harold Lloyd, which is also the film that the two kids sneak into the theater to view.
    • Hugo's nightmare about the train crash recreates a famous 1895 photograph of a train that had crashed through the back of Paris' Gare Montparnasse (the very station in which the film takes place).
    • If seen in 3D, the train scene is also a shout to the first film ever made, a train pulls into a station with the train coming towards the camera, which is also featured in the film.
    • Isabelle references Sydney Carton, Heathcliff and Jean Valjean.
    • If you listen carefully during scenes taking place in the train station, you can hear two songs that are present in The Grand Illusion.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: It's a somewhat fictionalized biopic of Georges Méliès from the perspective of the fictional Hugo.
  • Silence Is Golden: It's at least not nearly as talky as most children's holiday films are.
  • Spoiler Cover: The tagline spoils the plot, to those aware of early film history: "One of the most legendary directors of our time" refers to Papa Georges' real identity.
  • Staggered Zoom: On the train in the first dream sequence, directly referencing the way it was portrayed in the book.
  • Stock Clock Hand Hang: The movie shows the iconic part of Safety Last! where the main character hangs from clock hands in a movie theater. Later, Hugo escapes from the Inspector by crawling out of a large clock and hanging from its hands. The scene is also shown on the poster.
  • Stop Trick: The real Méliès' main special effect. In-universe a flashback scene demonstrates how it was done.
  • This Is Reality: Papa Georges tells Hugo that life has taught him happy endings only happen in movies.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers showed the automaton functioning after Hugo discovers that Isabelle has its key, along with the kids finding Georges' artwork for his films.
  • Translation Convention: The film is set in France, but most of the cast speaks English with a British accent.
  • The Un-Smile: The Inspector pulls one when trying to speak with the florist he has a crush on. At the end of the film, after they've gotten together, he claims to have "mastered three of them."
  • Verbal Tic: The Station Inspector has a habit of repeating what he is saying at least three times whenever he is making an accusation in slightly different words, presumably because it's the only time he gets to show off his vocabulary, as in another point he tries to pretend to have a wide understanding of poetry — he would really like to come off as intelligent and sophisticated.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • According to The Other Wiki, sets and costumes for Méliès' movies were painted in shades of gray (not in their natural colors, as depicted) to avoid unpredictable tones in black-and-white film. The film take artistic licenses with Méliès' life. In reality, he sold his props to open a traditional theater, and his films are collected by the government to recycle for silver.
    • The real Isabelle is called Madeleine, and actually Georges' biological grand-daughter. Jeanne is not Georges' first and only wife, however.
  • Villainous Friendship: The Inspector seems to have one with the man who takes children to the orphanage, talking about his wife's leaving him, and later asks Gustav to be his child's godfather.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of the movie, even though Papa Georges and Hugo have developed a close relationship, the notebook that Georges took from Hugo never turns back up. This is an artifact of adaptation compression; in the book, Isabelle does manage to find it. It's somewhat debatable if the item is still relevant at that point.


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