In this film, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a train station winding the clocks. He is interested in mechanics and how machines work; he takes after his father, the “clockmaker”. This leads him to steal gears and wheels from the toy shop so he can fix his father’s “automaton”. He tries to breathe new life into the little guy by replacing his insides.
Then there is the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his leg brace. The brace seems to hinder him more than it helps. He cannot run properly and it even causes him to be dragged by a train. While his brace may have been great technology at one time, now it does not seem to help much. However, in the end, he has a new and improved brace, which I assume was made by either Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) or Hugo himself.
Then there is the magic of the movies. Papa Georges thinks he is a horrific failure because his movies lost popularity. However, his imagination and ingenuity with the industry paved the way for many other film makers. He is an inspiration for others to develop better ways of filming and new stories to tell.
Even being a magician made him into an inventor. Hugo’s father talks about seeing other automatons magicians had made. No matter what field Papa Georges finds himself, he is constantly surrounded by new technology and gets inspired to great new, innovative machines.
Hugo searches for a “purpose” so he will not feel “broken”; that is why he feels a need to “fix” things. Papa Georges lost his need for new, exciting things. However, Hugo helps him rediscover himself. Technology will always have a place in the world.
Hugo is about innovation, seeing something old and making it yours. Taking inspiration from other people and creating something new. Even Isabelle does this in the end when we see her writing her own book. Technology breeds inspiration and ingenuity.
Symbols are always important in any story.
Many posts on the Internet discuss the book this film is based on, and its use of symbolism, imagery, and allegory.
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