It’s not often that Momming Mondays and Worldbuilding Wednesdays can nicely align along a theme (though I do try, even when it’s a real stretch), but I have the good fortune to be continuing this week’s theme on “To-Do” with a timely example. Over the weekend, we watched the movie “Hugo,” based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” The movie got mixed reviews and confused my father (who likes his symbolism clearly set out and usually punctuated by explosions), but there was one thing it did very well and very right–it Gave Them Something To Do.
I would have wandered away from the movie in the first fifteen minutes if I hadn’t been drawn in by Hugo’s need to get his notebook back.
Hugo’s notebook is taken by a man in unfair circumstances and that injustice invests the audience and inspires Hugo to do daring things to get that notebook back. But what do we care about the notebook? We don’t, and that’s pointed out by Isabel, the foster daughter of the man who took the notebook. But Hugo cares. Hugo cares a lot. And then we discover the old man cares just as much–so much that he intends to not only keep Hugo from getting the notebook back, but he’ll burn the thing to boot.
Now, later of course, we learn that the notebook is to help Hugo repair a clockwork man he was restoring with his watchmaker father when Pater Cabret met an unfortunate demise. We learn more secrets about the origin of the clockwork man, and the old man’s relationship to it, and we learn a big chunk of the part early cinema played in people’s dreams. The themes of family, belonging, purpose, and dreaming your dreams are solidly woven together.
There was fantastically obvious Oscar-baiting present as well. And for having child-protagonists, the movie wasn’t friendly to children. Mine were constantly in outrage mode over the terrible treatment of children (which was the B-storyline in the film, and worth commenting on in other contexts–yes, if you were a kid back in the 20’s/30’s and your parents died, you were pretty much screwed and on your own). Contrast that misery which was still held at arm’s length with the wonderment and magicality of Hugo’s existence, and you get a film that makes you ripe to be filled with some sort of strong sentiment.
Unfortunately, Scorsese chose to fill that void with sappy sentimentality about the Academy’s early era. To the movie-watching cynic like me, you combine fawning historical sentiment about the Academy with a tender coming-of-age story featuring a kid with more than a passing resemblance to Harry Potter (and I will say that the kid playing Hugo has a striking pair ‘o peepers and the occasional mannerism that tells me one day, he’ll be a real Hollywood heartbreaker as long as he doesn’t crash and burn), and you’re pretty much demanding to be Taken Seriously because your movie has Meaning (and therefore, shouldn’t just be an overpriced enjoyable diversion). The symbolism of absent parents, broken people, lost films, dreams, trains, and ticking clockwork either passed you right over or perched like a cat butt on your face when the tuna bowl’s empty. It ended up being a very heavy movie when it could have been a wonderful journey through possibility through the eyes of a child.
But as I said, one place where it didn’t buckle under its own weight was that it gave them something to do. And that carried the entire movie. Give your characters Something To Do, and use that as the strong central foundation on which to build a great story.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is out now! Please check it out!
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.