Reinventing Human Experience: Hugo and the Theological Possibilities of Film

  • Author(s): Clark J. Elliston
  • When: 2019-09
  • Where: Scorsese and Religion (Studies in Religion and the Arts, Volume: 15)
  • Martin Scorsese's Hugo (2011) both challenges popular expectations of a "Scorsese film" and affirms his noted passion for film history. Hugo contains neither shocking violence nor overt religious imagery—two hallmarks of Scorsese's work. Indeed, few would easily identify the auteur behind Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Cape Fear (2006) as one and the same with the director of Hugo. In turn, Hugo's disjunction generates reflection on Scorsese himself what, if anything, does the artistic vision behind Hugo tell viewers about Scorsese's own understanding of film? This essay argues that Hugo highlights two key aspects of Scorsese's developing legacy. First. Hugo emphasizes the profound ambiguity of the technological city in Scorsese's work. While film itself remains intrinsically technological, and thus modern technologies possesses significant positive power for change, the viewer cannot avoid the equally dehumanizing character of technological and urban life. Second, and going beyond the clear appreciation for film history, Scorsese's Hugo illuminates the transformative, and even redemptive, power of film. Film not only connects persons but channels creativity. Human life sans relational and creative expression leads to dehumanization and suffering. 

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