Cinema Divinite – Hugo

Cinema Divinite will be a new series by Br. James Dominic Rooney, reviewing contemporary movies from a “God’s-eye view.” We at PreachingFriars.Org hope you enjoy reading them!


Hugo is a film nostalgic for the golden age of film, sharing this with the other Oscar nominee The Artist. The film follows the young Hugo Cabret as he makes a living for himself - or, better, scrapes by - in a Parisian Metro station. His motivation in living is rather telling as to his character: on one hand, he is motivated to finish the work of his deceased father by completing a mechanical automaton he keeps as his sole treasured possession and, on the other, by an almost moral obligation to repair and maintain the mechanics that operate the Paris Metro. However, the story does not end with his everyday antics alongside the Paris Metro policeman (Sacha Borat Cohen), but eventually intersects with the life of a man who merely seems to run the toy store inside the Metro, but turns out to be the great legend of cinema George Melies. Hugo strikes up a friendship with his granddaughter, which begins his new role in the life of Melies. The drama then begins to revolve very closely around the two poles of Melies and Hugo, with dramatic collisions and fantastic resolutions.

The theme of these movements is very much a question of order and direction versus chaos and despair. Hugo’s own model of the universe revolves around the view he has of Paris from his cubbyhole in the Paris Metro. Hugo sees the whole world as a machine in which everyone has their proper place, a proper place on the altar of God's providence. The automaton is a symbol of this, as is the machinery of the metro itself. Hugo’s role is to repair that machinery and bring all things into harmony with the plan of the Great Mechanic. Speaking as a very great fan of Martin Scorsese's cinematic direction, I cannot but feel pride in yet another masterpiece from his hands. In Mean Streets and Good Fellas, Scorsese was famous for panning shots which displayed the scene from a God's-eye-view. In interviews, he has often explained these as one of his cinematic devices to give a “priests' eyes view of the altar” - the view of everything being offered as sacrifice. And Hugo then becomes the consummate mediator or priest who repairs the loose ends in the vast design.

It is a film which should engage those who have such high views of Hugo or film in general, but also is more importantly a film directed toward families. It’s, simply speaking, a lovely story.