From the very first moment his father had told him about it, the mechanical man had become the center of Hugo’s life. (1.5.5)
Nowadays, we’re a little spoiled with iPads and robot vacuums (hey there, DJ Roomba!), but back then, a machine like the automaton must have been a pretty amazing thing.
The blank white screen reminded Hugo of a brand new piece of paper, and he loved the wonderful whirring sound from the projector that filled the theater. (1.9.25)
Ah, the wonders of the silver screen. Even now, over 100 years later, we still love the feeling of waiting for a movie to start. It really is a kind of magic, especially for a kid like Hugo, who we're betting doesn't get to go to the movies all that often.
He held them in his good hand as if they were diamonds and rubies. Some were on single sheets of paper, some hand-bound into little books. The edges of the drawings were yellowed and brittle, but they were all beautiful, and they were all by Georges Méliès. (2.2.11)
Georges Méliès is a secret genius. Who knew? Hugo and Isabelle are taken aback by the fact that they never knew he had so much artistic talent inside of him.
“[…] So I figure if the entire 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.” (2.6.32)
Hugo gets a little philosophical for a moment (wow-ee kid, that’s deep) as he and Isabelle wonder at how amazing life is, and how big and vast and complicated the entire world is, even when it all seems to make sense—as it does in bringing Hugo and Isabelle together.
It created an image that Hugo recognized immediately. Shivers ran down his spine. (1.12.55)
The image of the man’s face on the moon gives Hugo an actual physical reaction. The magic of the automaton producing a picture pretty much blows Hugo and Isabelle’s socks off. But it's not just the fact that this machine can draw. It's what it draws that truly shocks Hugo.
“He bent down on one knee and whispered to me, ‘If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from when you go to sleep at night, just look around. This is where they are made.” (2.7.22)
What a beautiful sentiment. Georges Méliès really was an inspiration to some people (like Monsieur Tabard) and the scenes and fantastical scenarios he created feel like dreams come to life. Talk about movie magic.
Many of us recognized that a new kind of magic had been invented, and we wanted to be a part of it. (2.8.12)
Papa Georges wanted to continue to amaze and delight people, so what better way to amp up the magic than to go into making film? Back then, the sheer technology of moving pictures on a screen must have been utterly amazing.
When Hugo opened his eyes, all he could see were stars. Stars and moons and what looked like a rocket ship. (2.10.9)
Even when he’s just faced down death, Hugo has some moments of pure wonder. This could be due to blacking out, or it could be due to the fact that a star and moon patterned cloak is a pretty fancy—and magical—article of clothing.
“…Now sit back, open your eyes, and be prepared to dream.” (2.11.22)
Et voilà! The lights go off and we are cast (along with the audience) into the world of Georges Méliès’s dreams come to life. Even as we flip through the images, we see just how much of a fantasy world he’s been able to create.
But now I have built a new automaton… When you wind it up, it can do something I’m sure no other automaton in the world can do. It can tell you the incredible story of Georges Méliès, his wife, their goddaughter, and a beloved clock maker whose son grew up to be a magician. (2.12.8)
The final bit of magic is the book itself, which has been written by Hugo’s own creation (a really fancy automaton). The final bit of magic, in a way, is this most wondrous and adventurous story. Although we have to wonder if the guy's just referring to his computer.
He packed up his things and raced out of the station. He was hungry and tired and had no idea where he would go. (1.5.44)
Poor Hugo really has no one at the beginning of the book. Uncle Claude is a total deadbeat and he doesn’t even know children his age.
Increasingly, Hugo felt like he had to try. If he fixed it, at least he wouldn’t be so completely alone. (1.5.54)
In a way, the automaton is a stand-in for Hugo’s friends, or at least another presence to live with him in the dingy little apartment. But seriously, having a robot as your only friend is… depressing, to say the least.
“I’m trying to help you. Why are you being so mean?” (1.8.21)
Hugo isn’t used to having friends anymore. In fact, he tends to rebuff any attempts to befriend him, and when Isabelle comes along, he even gets mad at her for trying to help him. It might take him a while before he's ready to accept help and affection.
“Etienne works at the movie theater near my home. He sneaks me in because Papa Georges won’t allow me to see any movies.” (1.8.34)
Isabelle, however, does have friends—and she wants to share them with Hugo. When Etienne comes along, he invites them both to the movies, and it's Hugo's first experience with having a partner (or two) in crime.
Without warning, Hugo wrapped his arms around Isabelle’s neck and gave her a big hug. He could tell she was surprised. (2.10.17)
Aw, these two are too cute. Oh, but wait. You may think that Hugo is finally being a good friend when he hugs Isabelle goodbye, but you would be wrong. He’s actually stealing her necklace without her knowledge. Looks like Hugo hasn't quite gotten the hang of this whole friendship thing yet.
Eventually, with no customers and nothing else to say, Isabelle tended to the loose ends of Hugo’s bandages and took out a book. She began reading. (2.6.4)
After the whole episode with the breaking chair and Papa Georges’ fever, Hugo and Isabelle have to join forces to keep the toy booth open and buy medicine for Papa Georges. Spending all day together, they start to get along. You might say they're fire-forged friends.
Between Hugo’s injured hand and Isabelle’s sprained foot, it was extremely difficult for them to get up the staircase and the ladder, but they each helped each other and at last they came to the glass clocks that overlooked the city. (2.6.30)
Soon, they’re trusting and even helping each other out. Hugo even shows Isabelle the view of the city from the glass clocks—something that he’s never showed anyone else before. It’s obvious that he considers her a friend by now, because friends share moments like these.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, two of my dearest friends, a young cameraman and his wife, were killed in a terrible car accident. (2.8.12)
Friendship ain’t all roses and butterflies. The death of Georges Méliès’s dear friends is what pushes him over the edge and into his life of depression and full-on curmudgeondom.
He had a little drawer just for the ticket stubs of the movies he and Isabelle saw together. (2.11.2)
How sweet! By the end of the book, Hugo and Isabelle aren’t bickering at all (well… maybe). Instead, they’re going to the World's Fair and seeing movies together. They’ve become true chums.
She then handed Hugo a photo she had taken of him with his old friends Antoine and Louis. They all had their arms around one another’s necks and they were laughing. (2.12.11)
In the end, Hugo has everything that he wanted—a family, a place to fix and make things, and most of all, friends he can rely on. Antoine and Louis may be the friends at school that he’s been reunited with, but it’s the girl who takes the photo, Isabelle, who has become his truest friend.
Hugo was good with clocks, too. The talent ran in the family. Hugo’s father had always brought home broken clocks for his son to play with, and by the time he was six, Hugo was able to fix just about anything. (1.5.20)
Hugo’s just like his father, who he looks up to more than anything. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in this case, the cog doesn’t fall far from the clock.
“Your father’s dead, and as your only living relative, I’m taking you in.” (1.5.34)
Wow, that’s comforting. Hugo’s going to be taken in by his only living relative, an alcoholic thief who wants him to quit school in order to apprentice with him? This is really one of those situations where family might not have your best interests at heart. Too bad Hugo doesn't have much of a choice.
“No. The only thing I’ll say is that I need to protect my husband. And the best way for me to do that is just to forget about all this…” (2.1.63)
Mama Jeanne may love and miss Papa Georges’s past as much as he does, but she’s willing to bury everything in order to protect her husband. While she may have his best interests at heart, by the end of the book, it's pretty clear that her husband needs just the opposite of protecting.
“He must like you,” Isabelle said. “In his dresser at home he has all the drawings I made him when I was little.” (2.6.16)
Shmoopers, this is quite possibly the cutest moment in the book. Or at least it's top five. Even though Papa Georges is all grumpy and accuses Hugo of being a good-for-nothing thief, he is still fond of the boy. In fact, he treats him kind of the same way he treats Isabelle, like a family member, and one he's proud of, no less.
“[…] But their baby daughter survived.”
“Me?” said Isabelle.
Isabelle has never known her parents, and this is a huge revelation to her. Wow! Now she knows why she loves movies so much (her parents made them) and she knows the story of how she came to live with her current family.
“You were the only bright spot in a very dark world. I made my wife promise she would never talk about my movies again.” (2.8.16)
Family really does help you move on when the going gets tough. Even though Papa Georges’s life fell apart, he had to keep going in order to take care of his wife and Isabelle. We can't imagine where he'd be now without them.
He helped Hugo stand. The children were enveloped by the soft folds of the old man’s cape, and together they all headed home. (2.10.27)
When Hugo is most in need of an adult family member in his life, Papa Georges (in true magician form) swoops in and snatches him away from the grubby Station Inspector’s fingers. He takes him home. And a single tear falls from Shmoop's eye.
The French Film Academy, through the intervention of Rene Tabard, arranged for money to be given to the Méliès family, and some of that money went into furnishing Hugo’s room. (2.11.2)
In the end, Hugo does get a nice family and a comfortable, normal kid kind of life. He goes to school, has friends, and best of all has a home to come back to (that’s not an apartment in the train station).
“You painted that picture, Papa Georges?” said Hugo, amazed. (2.11.10)
In the span of six months, he’s apparently also picked up on calling the old man “Papa Georges.” Pretty adorable, no?
It can tell you the incredible story of Georges Méliès, his wife, their goddaughter, and a beloved clock maker whose son grew up to be a magician. (2.12.8)
The whole story is one of how their family comes together… and also all that other stuff about robots and movies and stealing things, too.
And so Hugo began working all day in the dark on the clocks. (1.5.41)
Hugo quickly goes from a happy-go-lucky kid who adores his father and has lots of close friends at school to the poster child for underage, homeless workers. Uncle Claude really did a good job of bringing that kid up right.
He had been studying the book very closely and had learned how to do just about every magic trick it talked about. (1.11.6)
Hugo becomes a magician in his own right after he reads the book that he bought and watches Papa Georges performing some tricks. In fact he becomes good enough to make Isabelle’s key necklace “vanish” without her knowing it. After all, what's pickpocketing if not an example of sleight of hand?
The mechanical man hadn’t been writing… it was drawing! (2.12.54)
The mechanical man that Hugo has been so eagerly trying to fix has finally been transformed. It’s no longer a hunk of metal; it’s a moving, (not-quite) breathing little being.
“HA!” he cried. “How could this be mine? I am not an artist. I am nothing! I’m a penniless merchant, a prisoner! A shell! A windup toy!” (2.2.16)
Papa Georges seems quite upset that he’s been turned from a famous filmmaker into a toy booth owner, and with good reason. He used to have the most magical of lives, and now he’s just bitter and filled with regret. But there's still another transformation to be made…
“Maybe it’s the same with people,” Hugo continued. “If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”
“Like Papa Georges?”
“Maybe… maybe we can fix him.” (2.6.20-22)
Not all is lost for Papa Georges, though. Hugo and Isabelle are convinced that they can snap him out of his decades-long funk and get him back to the magician he used to be. They can work some magic of their own.
“It’s so beautiful,” said Isabelle. “It looks like the whole city is made out of stars.” (2.6.310)
The train station is the dingy place where Hugo is stuck traveling through dark hidden passages all day. But at night, when he’s up at the glass clocks, the city transforms into a real dreamscape.
It was the cape from A Trip to the Moon, and Georges Méliès was wearing it. (2.10.9)
Is it a bird? A plane? A flying blimp? No, it’s Papa Georges! And he’s turned back into his old magician self, just in time to save the day. He's transformed from grump to hero. And all it takes is a cape.
“Then you know Prometheus was rescued in the end. His chains were broken and he was finally set free.” The old man squinted one of his eyes and added, “How about that?” (2.11.19)
Like Prometheus, both Hugo and Méliès are set free at the end and can live their lives as they please. And how do they choose to do so? By forging a family.
Now that my cocoon has fallen away and I have emerged as a magician named Professor Alcofrisbas, I can look back and see that I was right. (2.12.4)
By the end of the book, Hugo has turned into a magician. Seriously, Shmoopers. He now goes as Professor Alcofrisbas, a name that Papa Georges bestowed upon him when he was performing magic tricks at the Film Academy gala.
The automaton my father discovered did save me. (2.12.5)
It may just be a little mechanical man, but that automaton changed everything. Now that's magic.
There it was, like an accusation, reminding Hugo that everything in his life had been destroyed. He sat down and stared at it. A long time passed. (1.5.45-46)
Poor Hugo is kind of paralyzed by what’s happened when he sees the automaton that his father was working on. The past life he had with his father is gone forever, and he’s left sitting in a pile of rubble feeling horrible. Poor guy.
“Go away,” the old man whispered, letting go of Hugo. “Please just go away. It’s over.” (1.6.7)
The notebook has stirred some not-so-great memories for Georges Méliès… and he just wants them all to go away. But since when does repressing the past ever work?
"We can’t dredge up the past now.” (2.1.60)
Mama Jeanne just keeps saying over and over again that they need to leave the past behind because it will upset Papa Georges. But why should they do that when he has such a colorful and interesting past? Shouldn't he be proud of his achievements, even if he didn't exactly come out on top?
“An empty box, a dry ocean, a lost monster, nothing, nothing, nothing…” (2.2.19)
Wow, Papa Georges is really upset. He’s just rambling off different words, but we get the gist—his past is gone and he’s been left with nothing.
“I grew up wanting to make dreams, too. Your husband gave me a great gift that day.” (2.7.23)
Papa Georges made a positive difference in the past, even if he won’t admit it. Not only did he make all those awesome movies, but he also managed to change Rene Tabard’s life. Try as he might to repress his own memories, he can't avoid the fact that he has created memories for others.
Hugo remembered what his father had said about seeing his first movie as a child. He had said it was like seeing our dreams in the middle of the day. (2.7.24)
Even Hugo’s father was touched by Méliès’s past, and he never even met him! He saw his movies and was amazed by them, which is enough to change his and Hugo's (and Méliès's for that matter) lives forever.
“I bought the toy booth, where I’ve been trapped ever since, listening to the sounds of shoe heels clicking against the floor… the sound of my films disappearing forever in the dust. I was haunted by those ghosts for so many years.” (2.8.17)
The toy booth keeps Méliès stuck in his past, even though he wants to move past it. He can’t help but equate those heels clicking with his lost film career, and it’s driving him crazy.
"Indeed, Monsieur Méliès himself was believed to be gone. But we have a most wonderful surprise for the world. Monsieur Méliès is here tonight and not all his films were destroyed.” (2.11.20)
Though Méliès was thought to be a relic of the past, he’s emerged again and is being recognized by the current folks in the film industry. He isn’t just an irrelevant fossil after all. His past means something to the future.
Film by film, Georges’ world was projected on screen for the first time in over a decade. (2.11.23)
When Hugo and the rest of the audience watch Georges’s films, they are absolutely amazed and transported… not back into the past, but into a world of fantasy. But they can only do this because Georges has reconnected with his past.
Time can play all sorts of tricks on you. (2.12.1)
True dat, narrator. In the end, we learn that lots of time has passed and that Hugo is now an adult—and a magician at that. Talk about tricks.
Most of all, Hugo would do his best to remain invisible. (1.5.56)
After Uncle Claude disappears on him, Hugo has no choice but to remain in the train station and try not to get caught. It’s not a fun life for a kid who should probably be out playing and running (not to mention learning his times tables).
“I can’t…” said Hugo.
“You must,” said Etienne smiling. (1.8.43-44)
Hugo is so trapped in the train station (like a little sewer rat, except nicer and smarter) that he’s hesitant to leave for anything. He has exiled himself within the walls of the train station out of fear for his safety. He doesn’t want to go to the movies with Etienne and Isabelle, but when pressured, he decides to go along with it, showing he just might have an edge on Papa Georges in a bravery competition.
He knew he shouldn’t have gone to the movies. He never should have left the station. (1.9.37)
Hugo is terrified when he comes back and sees the Station Inspector. It’s a serious game of cat and mouse for Hugo, even when the Station Inspector isn’t aware of his existence. He’s constantly on guard about being caught. So even in his home, he's isolated.
“What is this place?” she said. “Who are you?” (1.12.12)
Isabelle is pretty shocked by Hugo’s living arrangement. And no wonder! He lives by himself in a hidden-away apartment in the train station. It’s like he’s created his own little hermit cave.
“I…I want to be by myself when I turn it.” (1.12.34)
Hugo is so used to doing things his own way that even when he’s using Isabelle’s key (which he stole from her!) he insists on being alone for the big reveal. Isabelle stands her ground, though, and stays, which just might be a sign of their growing bond.
Hugo was still nervous about leaving the station. But he took a deep breath and headed downstairs to the vast subway system that snaked beneath the city like hidden rivers. (2.4.10)
Even using the subway station (which is in the train station) makes Hugo nervous because he feels like he’s not supposed to leave. But he does, because he wants to find out the truth about Papa Georges. He has to be brave and break his own rules a little bit.
I shut the door on my past…. I burned my old sets and costumes. I was forced to sell my movies to a company that melted them down and turned them into shoe heels. (2.8.16)
Papa Georges really is hard on himself. After his business tanks, he pretty much makes himself go into a self-imposed exile. He turns his back on the film industry and goes into his claustrophobic lifestyle of selling toys at a booth and coming home every day.
Hugo sat there like an animal, wet and shivering in the corner of his cage. (2.10.4)
Poor Hugo is literally imprisoned in the train station when the Station Inspector catches up to him and reprimands him for stealing milk. This just might be his loneliest moment. But luckily, his least lonely moment is just around the corner.
In the darkness of a new cinema that opened in a nearby neighborhood, Hugo was able to travel backward through time and see dinosaurs and pirates and cowboys […] (2.11.2)
But Hugo is trapped no more! Not only does he have the freedom to do what he wants, but through the magic of film, he’s able to let his mind and imagination roam where it wants.
“Then you know Prometheus was rescued in the end. His chains were broken, and he was finally set free.” (2.11.19)
In the end, everyone’s free from their past lives and living a much more exciting, magical, and loving existence. To be free, it turns out, means having a family.
Hugo’s father had stepped into a dark room and on a white screen, he had seen a rocket fly right into the eye of the man in the moon. Father said he never experienced anything like it. It had been like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day. (1.8.48)
Films aren’t just silly things that you watch mindlessly. For Hugo’s father, they were a departure from the real world, a dive into the kind of fantastical imagination that only comes out when you’re sleeping.
“Sometimes I think I like these photos as much as I like the movies,” she said. “You can make up your own story when you look at a photo.” (1.9.22)
Art is totally subjective—you can make what you want out of it. Isabelle points this out when they look at photos in the cinema. She can look at the pictures and make her own stories.
It was about an artist, a lost lottery ticket, a criminal, a borrowed coat, and an opera singer, and it had one of the most amazing chase sequences that Hugo could ever imagine. (1.9.27)
The movie they watch is amazing to Hugo and lets him escape from his real life for a little bit. He’s not just a boy who has been abandoned in a train station; he’s engrossed in a film that lets him slip into another world, if only for a little bit. Then that other world will come to him, when he has that chase scene with the Station Inspector, toward the end of the novel.
The edges of the drawings were yellowed and brittle, but they were all beautiful, and they were all by Georges Méliès. (2.2.11)
Both kids are taken aback when they see all of Papa Georges’ drawings and just how beautiful they are. That old man has quite the imagination, and in this moment, the kiddos recognize the value of that talent.
In the center of the room was a large painting that caught Hugo’s eye. He didn’t know what it meant but he liked it. (2.4.20)
You don’t have to have some theory or art history degree to be moved by art. Hugo’s just a kid, but he knows when he sees that painting of Prometheus that it means something to him. He can’t put his finger on it, but he likes it, and that's enough to be getting on with.
“My husband was an important man, and I am pleased that you remember his films with such fondness […]” (2.7.25)
Georges Méliès’s contributions to the film world were great, and even though he spends a lot of his time brooding and avoiding the past, he sure has touched some people in ways that he didn’t even realize. That’s the beauty of art.
Hugo realized it was a costume from the movie A Trip to the Moon. Hugo thought the movie was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen. (2.7.34)
Again, even though Papa Georges may think that’s he’s an old fossil and none of his works matter anymore, even youngsters like Hugo and Isabelle are rendered speechless when they see his films. That's some serious power right there.
“I soon found out that I wasn’t the only magician to turn to cinema. Many of us recognized that a new kind of magic had been invented, and we wanted to be a part of it.” (2.8.12)
To Papa Georges and other magicians at the time, film seemed like an art form that was its own kind of magic. And it’s easy to see that the other characters totally agree. After all, they all feel a giddy kind of magic when they watch the movies, and we're betting that's a feeling you're familiar with, too.
The lights went down and the orchestra began to play as the curtains opened. Film by film, Georges’ world was projected on screen for the first time in over a decade. (2.11.23)
Papa Georges’ creations are part of the bigger picture of the film industry, and the history of film. The Film Academy recognizes that, and with the help of his little adopted family, Méliès soon does, too.
“I address you all tonight as you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.” (P2 11.26)
The magic of film, the art of film, is that it transforms us all into magical creatures and dreamers. That’s way more exciting than being just your run of the mill accountant, student, waiter, or what have you.
“I want to see what’s in your notebook.”
“You can’t. That’s a secret,” said Hugo.
“Good. I like secrets.” (1.7.10-12)
And so begins the rollicking adventure of Hugo and Isabelle’s search for the answers to some very big secrets…
“I will decide how long you must work for each of the items you stole, and it will be up to me to decide when you have earned back your notebook, if it still exists.” (1.7.39)
Hugo needs to know whether or not his notebook still exists, but Papa Georges just won’t tell him the truth. Is he just trying to get some free labor at the toy booth, or does he want to see if he can trust Hugo first?
“Are you listening to me, Hugo? This is not your father’s!” (2.1.6)
Isabelle discovers that the automaton signs Méliès’ name and realizes the truth—that the mechanical man must be somehow linked to her godfather. The truth starts slowly trickling out, but the kids just can’t make sense of it yet. Not without some help.
Hundreds of pieces of paper of every shape and size scattered across the floor. Hugo saw that they were all covered with drawings. (2.2.7)
When Mama Jeanne directs them into the bedroom and they find all of Papa Georges’ pictures, the facts start clicking together. Papa Georges obviously had something to do with the film industry, but what? And how?
“Died? He’s not dead…” Hugo said out loud.
“Who isn’t dead?” said Etienne, who had been reading over Hugo’s shoulder.
“Georges Méliès.” (2.4.28-30)
The film world thinks that Georges Méliès is dead, but Hugo knows the truth—or at least part of it. And he’s going to reveal it to Rene Tabard and Etienne in order to see if he can get some more answers.
“This is how we can find out everything. Don’t mention this to your godmother yet.” (2.5.28)
Isabelle is unsure about whether she should let Monsieur Tabard and Etienne come over at first, but when the possibility of finding out everything is dangled in front of her, she can’t resist. She needs the whole story.
When Hugo finished, Isabelle was quiet for a few moments, then she said, “Thank you.” (2.5.31)
Hugo’s not a very buddy-buddy kind of kid, but he trusts Isabelle enough to tell her the truth about his background, and about why he lives in the train station. And that’s the moment when their friendship really becomes solidified.
“My parents were shoemakers, did you know that?” (2.8.10)
Papa Georges launches into a speech about his life, revealing to the kids exactly all that they were hoping to find out. And he starts at the very beginning.
“The clocks in the station should have stopped working when he drowned since no one was taking care of them… but they didn’t.” (2.9.9)
The truth finally comes out—Hugo’s uncle is dead and everyone knows it. When this bit of news dawns on him, it’s the beginning of the end for Hugo’s time at the station. He can’t just stay there and continue his life as it is anymore.
It can tell you the incredible story of Georges Méliès, his wife, their goddaughter, and a beloved clock maker whose son grew up to be a magician. (2.12.8)
The automaton reveals all in the end. Not the one that Hugo fixed over the course of the story (though that one definitely brought Hugo and Isabelle the truth about Méliès), but the one that Hugo builds in the end. The automaton tells the entire story… writing and drawing it out bit by bit.