Posts Tagged ‘Martin Scorsese’

A movie with Martin Scorse (films: The Departed, Shutter Island, The Goodfellas) as a director and Sacha Baron Cohen (films: Borat, Bruno, Dictator) as a main actor that can be safely watched by children? These are reasons enough to view this Academy Award winning film.  Add to this the beautiful musical scores and visually pleasing cinematography and it’s a must-see! But surely by now you know that this site does more than point out Academy Award nominations. This movie presents some great questions to wrestle with for both adults and your children: questions on purpose and meaning as well as illuminating the Gospel.  Now I tried to not merely summarize, but highlight the themes to be watching for. You’ll have to watch the movie to get the whole effect. That being said, there still may be some spoilers.

So who are we and why are we here? Are we “broken machines with no purpose” or are we created for something? This theme is found throughout the film beginning with the identity of Hugo Cabret, the orphan who lives in the train station of Paris and keeps the clocks up. Hugo learned to tinker from his father who was a clock maker. His father died leaving Hugo nothing but memories and an automaton – a mechanical man created to write/draw a message when wound like a clock. Hugo makes it his purpose to gather parts and get it working. He toils endlessly but cannot find the one heart-shaped key that would begin the wind-up process. Hugo meets a young girl named Isabelle. They quickly become friends and discover they already have something in common; the heart-shaped key hanging around the girls neck. Now the adventures begin to discover who the girl’s god-father is. Off to the clock-tower to wind the automaton and get this written message; the message to give Hugo purpose in life (at least he hoped it would). Hugo says to Isabelle:

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.

 “Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”

This begs the question, what is our purpose? Why are we here on this earth? Are we extra parts with no purpose? Are we machines that work perfectly once our heart-shaped keys are found? Are we scrap metal to the Great Manufacturer? Are we actors in God’s great guild? The Bible does tell us in Job 23 that God does what he pleases and in Romans 9 that he created vessels for both wrath and mercy for the display of His power and glory. Could a broken vessel ever be used to glorify God? If we are broken vessels, will he just discard us like junk? Is He cruel? Calloused? Is God on a power trip?

Well, we find out Isabelle’s god-father, is Georges Melies; a man depicted as emotionally dead and seemingly calloused about his particular circumstances. Hugo must “fix” Melies like the broken machines he tinkers with and help him rediscover his purpose in life.

Skipping ahead, Gorges is at an award ceremony. He sees Hugo in the seats and addressing the whole crowd says:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I…I am standing before you tonight because of one very brave young man, who saw a broken machine and against all odds, he fixed it. It was the kindest magic trick that ever I’ve seen.”

Finally, a narrative is being read by Isabelle:

Once upon a time, I met a boy named Hugo Cabret. He lived in a train station. Why did he live in a train station? You might well ask. That’s really what this book is going to be about. And about how this singular young man searched so hard to find his secret message from his father and how that message led his way all the way home. [Emphasis mine]

Now, some thoughts, if you haven’t already been connecting spiritual dots.  Our purpose? Our “reason” for being created? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. The problem? We can’t. We can neither glorify God nor enjoy him. We, “broken machines” and sinners are unable to be “fixed” on our own powers – we are simply vessels of wrath talked about in Romans 9. End of the story? Is God cruel to make us and then leave us so helpless? No, because we are all here because God saw us – “broken machines” – and against all odds, He fixed us.  To use the movie’s quote: “It was the kindest magic trick that we will ever experience.” How did He do this? Well, once upon a time, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to do the message of His Father; to live in this world, to take on our flesh, to have no place to lay his head, live a perfect life, die a gruesome death and be resurrected into glorious light so that we may no longer be called “broken orphans”, but Sons of God; co-heirs to the thrown – finally giving us purpose. All glory be to God!

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”  – John 4:34

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21


Glen Ulrich: Husband. Father of one daughter. Member at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS.  A Civil Engineer who graduated from Mississippi State University.  Avid movie watcher but recently (with the help from this site) trying to watch movies through the lens of scripture. Thankful for God’s grace upon my life in that I can love because He loved me first.


Book Reviews Middle Readers Picture Books

By his own account, Brian Selznick spent six months in a funk before coming across the seminal idea forThe Invention of Hugo Cabret. An award-winning illustrator of children’s novels and biographies, he couldn’t see his career going anywhere until he came across a bit of trivia about George Miletes, one of the pioneers of early cinema: it seems the man collected automata (moving mechanical figures) for much of his life, then discarded them. A story idea was born, and eventually, a new way to tell stories. “New” is relative—supposedly there is nothing such under the sun. But Selnick’s way to combining pictures and words to make a chunky volume topping 500 pages is neither graphic novel nor flip book not picture book. Even calling it heavily illustrated is misleading, for illustrations only accompany a story. Selznick’s illustrations actually tell the story, for page after wordless page alternating with sections of text.
He’s done it twice now: The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott medal (generally awarded for picture books) in 2009, but it could just as easily have won the Newbery medal. The day before Thanksgiving, Hugo, directed by no less than Martin Scorcese, will open in theaters nation-wide, which will bump up sales and attention even further. Last summer,Wonderstruck, Selznick’s second novel done in a similar style (only even longer), hit the bookstores and immediately muscled its way to the top of the best-seller lists. The man seems to be on to something, and the books are certainly worth reviewing.
Hugo Cabret, of The Invention, is an orphan boy living in the hidden passageways of Paris’s Central Railway station, keeping up the clocks as his alcoholic uncle (now missing) taught him to do. In between making his rounds and observing the city from behind clock faces, Hugo is working on a project: to restore an automaton rescued by his late father from a museum rubbish heap. In quest of parts, he sometimes steals small mechanical toys from a kiosk in the station. When the elderly shopkeeper catches him and confiscates his priceless notebook, Hugo makes an antagonistic alliance with the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle, to get it back. In between bickering and getting into trouble, they uncover intriguing clues to the old man’s past, leading to the discovery of his past career as an inventor. Not just a dabbler in old technology, represented by the automatons, but also pioneer of a new technology that took the world by storm.
I won’t give the ending away, even though to my mind it didn’t quite deliver on the intriguing questions raised at the beginning. In fact, absent the Wow! factor of the cinematic format, the story itself is rather simple. I say “cinematic” because the drawings—from the dashed and hasty to the richly detailed and textured—work exactly the way a camera does: to build tension, to bridge the action, to foreshadow events, to frame themes and symbols. Even the text pages are bordered in black, like individual frames of film. (The author comes by his camera instincts honestly, being a first cousin twice removed of David O. Sezlnick, legendary producer of Gone With the Wind and other Hollywood classics.)
The story takes place in 1931 but harks back to an earlier day: late 19th century, a high noon of mechanical accomplishment. The automaton is a central figure, seen by Hugo sees as the bearer of a message that “was going to save his life.” Hugo is shown looking out from behind clock faces as though he, with his antique clothes and shaggy hair, has been left behind while the world moves on without him. Is there a place for him? His mechanical bent gives him an answer of sorts. Gazing out over the nightscape of Paris, he tells Isabelle, “. . . if the world is a big machine I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.” It also implies that someone has created the machine, but we don’t go there.
That’s as close as Hugo Cabret comes to a worldview, and it probably points to a being, force, purpose outside the sphere of earthly time just as Hugo is outside the flow of Paris life. Eventually he finds his place and his purpose, and that’s a good thing—but regarding the Purpose behind the purpose we have no clue. And just what is the “invention” of Hugo Cabret? The mechanical wonders in the story are all inventions of someone else. Hugo takes credit for the book: “These words.” Does that mean we automatons are fearfully and wonderfully made? Or that we have the power to create our own reality?
Wonderstruck includes the scene of new friends gazing out over the night sky, a life-to-scale reproduction, and lots of movie references, but it tells two stories instead of just one. The first begins in 1977, where Ben Wilson has grown up with a single mom and her sisters’ family in a hunters’ paradise in the north woods: Gunflint Lake, Minnesota. But his mom was recently killed in an auto accident and his uncle is wanting to sell the house he grew up in—looming displacement. During a lightning storm, Ben finds a clue to his father’s identity—a telephone number. He picks up the phone to call the number just as lightning strikes and renders him deaf in his other ear (he was already deaf in one). Waking up in the hospital, he determines to run away to New York City, where his father may still live, and . . .
Hoboken, New Jersey, 1928: Rose, a deaf child, lives in a world of silence enlivened by the movies. But that’s soon to change with the introduction of talking pictures, and her dismay is poignant—once again she will be cut off from her chief connection with the hearing world. Learning that her favorite movie star will be appearing in Broadway play, Rose runs away to New York City, where . . .
Ben and Rose are separated by fifty years but connected by a disability and a sense of displacement—and more, as it will turn out. His story, told in prose, and hers, in pictures, are intercut in the Selznick trademark way that’s so striking it disguises flaws in the story. Juvenile displacement, as we’ve seen, is a favorite theme of his, and a valid one—we can all relate to some degree. Underlying connections and discovered relationships are great plot devices but they stretch a little thin when trying to connect the dots of Deaf culture, silent movies, wolves, the American Museum of Natural History, dioramas, lightning, Grand Murais, “Major Tom,” stars, meteorites, the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, the 1977 NYC blackout, and museums in general. At times the story feels like it was assembled from a grab bag of the author’s latest interests and shoehorned into the noble theme of “wonder.” I could see no reason for the secret identity of Rose’s mother, which promises to be more significant than it turns out. Ben’s mother is presented as a free spirit (1977, remember?) but she strikes me as selfish for not telling him about his father. No good reason not to, except that she seemed to want the boy as her own personal possession. Ben’s relationship with Jamie, a boy he meets in the city, is too coincidental and too rushed; Jamie’s need is so intense it’s almost creepy.
The writing is more than capable, even striking at times: “It was as if someone had cut out the dream from his head and put it behind glass”; “Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey Decimal System. That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for . . .” As in Hugo Cabret, the pictures are an endless source of understanding. A kid could spend hours noticing how they focus attention visually and reference each other from one page to the next.
Taken together, Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck remind me of Marshall McLuhan’s saying about the Medium being the message: novels that are perhaps too enamored of their format to deliver coherent stories. But still worth a look, especially for the budding illustrator who could learn a lot about how pictures convey meaning.

Our friends at Redeemed Reader have been doing some great work for a while now, so we wanted to let others know about them. With the release of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo on Friday, we were happy to have those at RR give us some perspective on the literary side of the film. Be sure and read a bit about Janie below and be sure and make her feel welcome by coming back and checking out her post.

Janie Cheaney is a kids’ book author, Senior Writer at World Magazine and blogger with Emily Whitten at, a website dedicated to shining a gospel light on children’s literature so that Christian parents, educators, and the children they nurture may read in a more redeemed and redeeming way.

We are glad to have Janie Cheaney, from Redeemed Reader, guest post for us on Friday.  She will be discussing the books that contribute to Martin Scorsese’s theatrical release of Hugo.  In light of that, we wanted to know if you’ve ever seen a movie that was better than the book?

***For those of you who checked out last week’s WWP, we did have a winner.  Scott Byrd, of Chicago, Illinois, won the $10 movie pass.  We will be awarding prizes periodically through our WWP, so be sure and check back***