Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Memory and the Past

By Brian Selznick

Memory and the Past

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.