Monday, December 19, 2011


A common symptom of Aspergers Syndrome is an intense and keen preoccupation with specific subjects that go beyond a hobby - what parents of kids on the autism spectrum call a "special interest." They come and go in phases. My son is transitioning from a passion for animals to an interest in science (convenient that those two subjects are mutually compatible). He has also developed an obsession with maps.

So when I first saw the preview for Martin Scorsese's Hugo - I knew it would be the perfect movie for my Aspie son. An adventure of a boy with a narrow interest in fixing things, a robot that is the focus of all his energy, and the inner workings of a Parisian train station; it fit right in with my son's new fascination with all things scientific. The foreign setting would lend itself to map exploring when we were home again and in front of a computer.

What appeared on the surface to be a visually stunning and potentially emotionally manipulative tale turned out to contain a delightful story.

The movie opens with Hugo - an orphan that lives behind the walls of the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. Hugo steals food to survive, keeps all of the clocks in the station operational, and watches the lives of normal people from behind the clock faces - all while avoiding the grasp of the station master (Sacha Baron Cohen) a stern guard who likes to capture stray children and send them to the orphanage.

He also steals springs and gears and other mechanical trinkets from a grouchy toy-maker (Ben Kingsley) to repair a robot salvaged by Hugo's father (Jude Law). The boy is skilled at fixing things - be it his robot, clocks, toys, or the lives of people who have lost their place in the world.

Along with the toy-maker's goddaughter, Hugo works to interpret a message drawn by the robot - a path that takes him through the history of film to a forgotten legend.

There is an air of magic that surrounds the story - yet it is wholly grounded in mechanized realism with a hint of steampunk romance. Through Hugo's eyes, we see the world full of wonder yet tainted with heartbreak. It presents us a message of purpose - that everyone is here for a reason, that every person is like a part in a machine where there are no extra parts.

My son was captivated by the film, often leaning over and whispering "This is a good movie." I expected him to enjoy the movie - but he learned more than I anticipated. At a point where the early days of cinema was portrayed showing the hand cranked projectors used in the first movies, Christian took his eyes off the screen for the first time and turned to look to the back of the theater - inspecting the projection booth that I'm sure he never before knew existed. I could see the awe in his face coupled with the sudden realization of how movie magic worked.

Like most of Martin Scorsese's work, Hugo is a bit long. It clocks in with a running time just over two hours and bits of the movie seemed lumbering or overly drawn out. At times, it also felt as if I was watching the longest National Film Preservation Foundation PSA ever created. It should be noted that Martin Scorsese founded The Film Foundation in 1990 and is on the board of directors.

But the picture is dazzling. The message of fixing things that are broken and of purposeful reason for existence lends the movie some teachable moments for kids. It is worth watching and (in hindsight) I wished I had shelled out the few extra bucks to see it in 3D.

I recommend you see it. And if the opinion of a seven year old is worth anything - Christian gave it praising remarks. Go, and take your kids with you.

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