December 2, 2011

Wounded healer

a review of Hugo, a film by Martin Scorcese

Hugo is a rich film with much to commend it to a wide range of audiences. There is enough action and youthful characters with whom the thoughtful younger set can identify, as well as some poignant older characters with whom any adult who has experienced disappointment or loss will be likely to resonate. The primary theme is brokenness and loss, but the film is about triumph through and over these obstacles. That a child is the bringer of healing — it does not go too far to say salvation — is all the more appropriate to this season.

That child is played by young actor Asa Butterfield, whom I’d only just seen in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas the day before. He is a bit older and much wiser in this film, and I am very happy to say that unlike the sad emptiness and pathos with which I was left at the end of the earlier film, Hugo left me uplifted and bright with hope. All is not lost, it reassures us. It is just important to be sure you have all the pieces, and they must be there somewhere because that is how things are made. Things can break, or be lost or misplaced, but there is hope for repair, renovation, and restoration.

This film of many films within a film is also a love song to cinema, from one of its more daring artists. He has tried many things in the past, but this is Scorcese’s first foray into 3-D, and I’m not entirely sure it was necessary, even though the result is spectacular. I have to confess that while I find 3-D fascinating, I remain unsatisfied as it presents an image that is not really quite as the pair of human eyes sees it, since our brain wants to focus on whatever holds our attention. This leads me to become even more aware of the artifice, rather than suspending any disbelief. But then again, this is a film about artifice, so perhaps that is all to the best.

Ben Kingsley is his usual excellent self as a man slowly pulled from the depths of bitterness and despair into the literal magical light in which he had once reveled. Sacha Baron Cohen makes the most of what could have been a totally two-dimensional figure, and fleshes it out with poignant effect, as another broken man who finds his own completion and restoration. The other supporting players are quite fine, though I would have liked to have seen more of Christopher Lee as the bookseller — I wonder if something was lost in the cutting room, as his story seems a bit of a loose end. Keep an eye out for James Joyce and Salvador Dali in the crowded train station; I spotted the first but have to say I missed the second.

Enjoy this film this season of expectancy and restoration. There is much to delight the eye and lift the spirits here. And we could all use some of that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

The movie was lovely in so many ways. And what an homage to the movies! I spent many hours of my childhood in movie theaters, three films a week for years and years. I grew up in books and at the movies. In a near literal sense, I grew up in other worlds.

The 3-D sometimes gave me vertigo, but it doesn't take much to make me dizzy, and I missed the two famous people, because I was so caught up in the movie that I didn't think to look for them.

The film is perfect for the season of Advent. I won't bother to review either 'Hugo' or 'J Edgar'. I'll just send folks over here and tell them that I agree.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. As I recall the two famous guys are in the opening "fly-thru" of the whole station, which introduces most of the other minor characters (the man with the dog and the cafe owner), but the camera just swoops by. I picked out Joyce in part because I've been a many-years-long fan of his work, and the slouch hat, sunglasses, and pencil mustache were enough!

I don't think I have any other movie plans for the coming weeks, except perhaps War Horse. But a new theater has opened up that offers a Wednesday senior matinee, and I've been taking advantage of the half-price tickets!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review Tobias. I saw it last Friday, and want to see it again. I'm thinking that this film might make its way into my Christmas sermon. I actually saw it in 2D. 3D gives me motion sickness. The power and risk of dreaming is another theme that resonated powerfully for me.

Perhaps Godincidentally; as Laura and I were walking through the mall right fter the movie, I heard the Pretenders' "2000 Miles," one of my favorite "secular" Xmas songs. As our parish comes through a painful rebuilding process after a tornado forced the demolishment of our church in 18 months ago, I'm still haunted by the apparent gap between dream and reality, and how a newborn child might help us bridge that gap. Thnks again, and blessing to you and your ministry this Advent.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Fr David. I do think this may become one of those "Christmas" movies that only distantly reference the actual feast -- but manage to capture something of its deeper meaning.

To an old process theologian like me, of course, that tension between dream and reality is knit up in the fabric of existence, as the dream pulls reality itself into being, in a constant cycle of new birth in each moment. After the storm comes that still small voice, out of the silence, calling us to renewal. Always.

God bless you and yours this holy time, and in all times...