The movie Hugo: If you’re not famous, you’re nothing

One of the peculiarities of American life is that young people tend to see serious movies intended for old people while old people (like me) tend to see frivolous movies intended for young people. Everyone seems to love and be inspired by the Martin Scorsese movie Hugo. (Spoiler alert) The story concerns an old man who was a pioneer in the early movie industry and who, after World War I, found that his popularity had faded to the point where he could no longer make commercial films. No longer famous, he becomes a “loser” who does nothing more than support a wife and god-daughter by working in a toy shop inside a train station. A boy connects the old forgotten guy with a film historian in an attempt to “fix” the old man. I assumed that the “fixed” old guy would be able to resume his creative projects, but in fact the inspiring ending is not that the creative genius is able to work again in a creative field. The old guy emerges from obscurity to wear a tuxedo, attend awards ceremonies, etc.

The message to children in the audience seems to be “Achievement is irrelevant if you’re not famous; if you are famous, no additional achievement is required.” Certainly having an ordinary job and supporting a wife and child is not an outcome to be desired.

I’m not shocked that someone in Hollywood would have made this movie, but I am shocked that people would pay to watch it and more shocked that they would pay to have their children watch it. What if your kid ends up selling tires and coming home ever night to feed the family? Should he feel like a failure? What if your kid writes a bestselling novel and, 20 years later, is forgotten? Do you want him to feel like a failure?

[Separately, what do folks think of the 3D in this movie? I didn’t find that it added much to the story or experience. Mostly it just made me wonder what parts were animated and what parts were real(-ish).]


  1. Val

    December 6, 2011 @ 9:47 pm


    Saw this last week with a friend. I didn’t dwell much on the lesson you point out, but you do have a point.

    Re the 3D: I’m officially over it. I’d heard that Scorsese had finally “done 3D right”, and he’s such a great filmmaker I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. For me, it didn’t add a thing that you don’t already get with effective use of various 2D techniques like environmental perspective (basically, things are dimmer and less saturated as they recede) and depth-of-field effects (things get blurry if they’re nearer or farther away than the main subject of focus) — and those effects are already in use in the movie, #d or not.

    On the other hand, it has big negatives: I was constantly aware of the glasses (and I don’t wear regular glasses, but my wife does — how do you use 3D glasses on top of your real specs?), and the image is noticeably dimmer (periodically I’d raise the glasses and either see an image that rendered fine anyway, or a badly split image, but either way, the color and luminosity were so much better that I’d always trade the “3D” effect for decent color). But the main thing is that it still comes off as a distracting, cheesy effect, rather than adding anything to the story. Save your money.

  2. Jim T

    December 7, 2011 @ 9:38 am


    Yeah, surely you’ve completely missed the story as presented *on its face*.

    It’s not a story about being famous. It’s a story about finding what it is you do, and the pain when you can’t do that thing.

    Hugo and his dad are fixers, they don’t need to be famous and don’t become famous. The old guy is a filmmaker, and owning a toy shop doesn’t cut it for him at all. The girl discovers at the end that she’s a writer. She might be famous, she might not, the film doesn’t push that she *must become a famous writer*, just that writing is what she does.

    As for the 3D, this film was one of the ones that used it to its best extent. The scenes and set-pieces were done with great care and artistry, using the 3D, not ignoring it, not treating it as a gimmick, but adding it in as another fully fledged tool in the palette.

  3. Mark

    December 8, 2011 @ 1:59 am



    In the age of reality TV and 175 cable channels, it sure seems like our society has placed too much emphasis on being “famous”, which leads us to the fact that now we have many celebrities whose only claim to fame is being famous for being famous. Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and too many others are somehow our new symbols of “being somebody” these days.
    I think it’s simply a world that’s getting lazier and lazier by the minute. My wife thinks it’s a rapidly approaching apocalypse. Either way, it’s a very sad commentary on what many of us think of as important.
    Life-saving physician, children-saving social worker or maybe a utility worker who keeps us warm and safe with electricity in our homes? Not very cool since they’re not on TV.
    But being a two-bit whore or a philandering adulteress is THE way to go as long as you have your own reality show and perfume line. Now THAT’S famous.

  4. Jim T

    December 8, 2011 @ 9:06 am

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