Hugo—Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

 “I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.”  Hugo

Hugo is an orphan child who lives “in the walls” (think of a mall’s back hallways and storage rooms that aren’t for public access…kind of like that) of a train station.  He has inherited the job of maintaining the stations clocks, which he does with meticulous faithfulness.  He is also, in his spare time, working to fix an automaton (a robot) which his father had found—it’s something they were fixing together before his father died. 

The automaton is important to him because it’s something he and his father had done together, to be sure.  It’s also important because he feels that if the automaton was working he wouldn’t feel so alone.  But there is another, deeper reason why this robot matters so terribly much to him.  It symbolizes to him his own need to be useful, to have a job to do in the world. 

Isabelle comments that the automaton looks sad.  Hugo responds, “I think he’s just waiting to work again, to do what he’s supposed to do.”  This is at the core of the movie and its various characters.  For example: 

  • Hugo and Isabelle (his young friend) have both been orphaned, and both wonder what their purpose is. 
    • Isabelle questions if she would know her purpose if only her parents were still alive. 
    • Hugo realizes that his motivation to work so hard to maintain the clocks at the station is his need to feel useful, to have a purpose. 
    • Isabelle’s caretaker, Georges Mellies, is like the automaton—he’s sad.  He’s sad because he was a filmmaker, but when the war came it changed things.  People were no longer interested in his fantastical creations.  He was a creative genius who felt there was no longer any place for, any use for, such genius.  He, like the automaton, was “waiting to work again, to do what he was supposed to do.”

Hugo finds purpose in fixing machines, but Isabelle begins to point out to him that he has a knack for fixing more than just things…he fixes people too.  I think his gift for this comes in his understanding of the universe…which comes from his understanding of machines.  He has fixed enough clocks to realize that every machine comes with all the parts it needs to function.  No more.  No less.  Every part has a purpose and nothing is wasted. 

Hugo applies that same logic to the world.  Everything in the world has a purpose.  Nothing in the world is wasted.  When Hugo finds a machine that is broken, he restores it so it can again fulfill its purpose and be useful.  When Hugo discovers that Georges Mellies is “broken” and sad—he rather instinctively feels that this has to do with Georges’ purpose in life, and he sets about “fixing” Georges so that he can again create and fulfill his purpose in the world. 

There is a lot of good, common sense in this. We do have an intrinsic need as humans to feel that we are able to contribute to the world, to be useful.  In older literature, this is a very common theme.  Men set about to find a job which would enable them to use their gifts to make the greatest possible contribution to society.  Nowadays I think the emphasis has shifted a little.  The focus seems to have moved away from finding a place to be most useful, to finding a place which pays the most money.  I think they had it right in the olden days. 

It’s more than just good, common sense, though.  It’s scriptural.  Acts 139 tells us that God carefully created us and ordained the days of our lives. 

13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11 takes it a little further and tells us that God has plans for us.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”   The Great Commission adds a little clarity to our purpose here on earth.  It says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”[1]  God wants us to spread his word.  We are to be his “witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”[2] 

When a man makes a clock he does it with intention and purpose.  He carefully designs each piece to fulfill a particular and necessary function.  Surely God, who created the universe, who made the very clockmakers, does the same.  Surely he too creates each piece of the universe with intention and purpose, to fulfill particular and necessary functions.  2 Timothy 2:20-21 indicates as much.  “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.  Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”  Every article in the house has a purpose.  The interesting thing is, if we desire to have a noble purpose, there is something we can do about it.  We do have a say in the matter.  If we cleanse ourselves from sin, from what is unclean, then we will be made holy and useful to the Lord.  We will then be prepared to do any good work which the Master asks us to do.

Note:  the issue of finding your calling is a pretty significant one, in terms of both importance and depth—it’s far bigger than this little movie review can contain.  If you are interested in learning more about the Biblical idea of calling, might I recommend you start with Os Guinness’ book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life.

Another Angle to Take:  Hugo as an Evangelistic Opening

Since Shepherd Project’s movie reviews are written with the purpose of helping you use movies to spur conversations about faith, I want to take a quick second to note a slightly different approach which may be useful to you in discussing this with other people.  This movie reminds me of one of the basic arguments for how we know the earth had a creator.  It goes something like this:  if you find a watch in the woods, you look at it and see its intricacies and how it all works together, you realize this watch must have had a creator.  It didn’t just spontaneously come together like this.  The same is true with our world.  When you see how intricately everything fits together, how specialized each creation is, logic would hold that there was/is an Earth Maker.  (Note: For more specifics on this argument, and three other basic, logical approaches to how we know there is a God, check out this easy-to-read book by Craig Smith called The Search-How Can I Know God Exists!)

I would also say that, if you find that same watch, but find that it doesn’t work, you wouldn’t just assume someone took the time to put all those pieces together in such perfection for it to do nothing.  You would assume that it had a function and that its function was broken.  You would also assume that if you found the maker of the watch, he could fix it and restore it to its original purpose.  It’s easy to see that our earth (and ourselves as well) was created by a detailed, loving hand.  It’s also easy to see that some things in our world are broken.  But there is good news!  The Earth Maker can fix what is broken if we but bring it to him. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • Do you feel like you are an “extra part” sometimes, like you don’t have a purpose or value to the world?
  • Do you ever sense that God made you with a purpose on this earth, but you just don’t know what it is?
  • Do you feel that you are broken?  Do you feel that your brokenness is something that hinders you from achieving your purpose, from doing the work you were meant to do on this earth?
  • Isabelle questioned if maybe her parents could have given her her purpose, if only she’d known them.  Who do you go to find your purpose?
  • I once heard a joke about a man who went on a blind date.  Afterwards he told his friend, “Well, I’m sure she was some of God’s handiwork, but she wasn’t one of his masterpieces.”  Do you feel like that?  Do you feel like you were made with leftovers rather than God’s finest?  Or do you really believe that you are fearfully and wonderfully made?  Do you really believe that you were created with loving care? 
  • If part of your purpose is to help spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, then do you feel like you are achieving any part of that purpose?
  • The Bible says that if you cleanse yourself from what is unclean then you can be a holy vessel, ready for any good work.  Are there things from which you need to cleanse yourself in order to be used by God in the way you want to be?
  • Do you know any non-believers that you could discuss Hugo with?  Could you share with them about the watch in the woods analogy to help open their eyes to who God is? 
  • Are you broken?  Do you know anyone else who is broken?  Do you think that maybe part of what is broken is that they have lost their “work” to do in this world, their purpose?  Could finding their purpose again help restore them?  Or possibly something is broken which keeps them from being able to do the work they were created to do.  In either case, do you know the earth maker who can fix all that is broken in this world, even you?

Read a collection of quotes from Hugo here.

[1] Matthew 28:19-20

[2] Acts 1:8