Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Awe and Amazement

By Brian Selznick

Awe and Amazement

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.