“Hugo” Feels Like “The Artist”


I love this kid…Resilient, properly-guarded, smart, beaten-up in life, but sensitive and focused outwardly–a major contrast to the self-centered genius Melies.

Well, hubby and I recently watched the Martin Scorcese film “Hugo,” in our ever-constant attempt to see movies of note from the past year.  Remember—“Hugo” was up for Oscar as Best Picture?

I felt the movie’s theme was eerily similar to “the Artist.”  OK, it wasn’t a silent picture (the actors speak in this movie even tho’ the movie focuses on two silent actors in their former glory days) but the man who’s at the center (producer/director George Melies) was another cinematic great whose career crashed, burned (literally,) and was miraculously resurrected at the end when his industry heralds him as a genius (Hollywood loves this theme.)

Melies produced hundreds of short movies in which he and his wife performed, as a team, creating fantastical backdrops and costuming.  But when World War I ended and the soldiers returned, they apparently had little appetite for wonder (too jaded), and George’s career sputtered and died.

In despair, he burned his movies, and as a result, only a small number remained (reminiscent of “The Artist,” who self-inflicts and sets his apartment on fire?)

This actor/producer/director rode the height of movie glory…became a huge star…then fell from dizzying heights when the public cast him aside.  He can’t cope; depression takes hold; and he destroys even his legacy—the hundreds of films he’s produced.

The movie begins, in Melies’s later years, when the young boy, Hugo, meets him.  This fallen ‘great’ is running a toy shop in a Parisian train station…a dour and broken man.

But, here’s what struck me:  No. 1—What’s the likelihood of two movies with an almost-identical theme coming out at the same time? (I’m seriously asking—this question’s not merely rhetorical.)

And #2– is it just me or are others of you, in the movie-goer public, put-off by the narcissism of the lead characters of both movies? I mean, it’s not like either escaped prison camps and are haunted by the brutality they experienced or witnessed.  They’re both artists who vaulted to the highest pinnacle but became non-functioning when their careers blew up in their faces.

In short, they never recovered… never adapted (and we know what happened to the dinosaurs who followed that dysfunctional route.)

Interesting, too…no. 3– Both men had long-suffering mates who stood by them in their emotional malaise.  Today, we call those women ‘enablers.’

The one difference between these two movies, in my estimation, is Hugo—the young boy and namesake for the movie.  Now, that young man had plenty of real problems to be upset about. He had no mother; he lost his brilliant, clockmaker father with whom he had a wonderful relationship to a freak accident (an explosion). He’s forced to pilfer food from vendors whenever possible; he doesn’t go to school.  

Then, he lost his alcoholic parent stand-in, an abusive uncle, to that man’s own demons (he fell into a canal and drowned but not ’til long after he’d abandoned Hugo to run the clocks in the station).  When the uncle dies, Hugo is threatened with being shipped off to the workhouse where orphan boys are sent. 

But Hugo finds salvation, because he looks outward, beyond his own problems. He meets and befriends Melies’s young ward, Isabelle and the two become friends.  Together, they resurrect George’s faith and career, as they bring an important man to see Melies,  a man who’s spent his lifetime collecting the producer’s scattered memorabilia, immortalizing him in a museum.

However, the preoccupation of both men with their own lives and former greatness is a huge turn-off for me.

But I can surely see why the Academy places such importance on these films. They probably fervently hope this theme plays out in their own lives– that if they suffer a dramatic and dizzying downward spiral, they hope someone…somewhere…will recognize their genius and honor their greatness, preferably by resurrecting a stunning monument to their achievement and honoring them on a special night.

As for me?  I like my heroes and heroines more resilient and waaayy less narcissistic.

Now, what did you think?  Did you find the themes in “The Artist” and “Hugo” similar? Weigh in–please…

And here’s another site to help you digest more background information on “Hugo.”

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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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