Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Art and Culture

By Brian Selznick

Art and Culture

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.