The boy Hugo, in the film of the same name, get’s to live in a Railway Station – I’m really quite envious. It’s the only part of his life at the start of the film that I could be envious of. He’s lost his father and is clearly still grieving – quite rightly – and with the loss of his father he’s left with questions about belonging, purpose and the simple why of things. As the story opens his living conditions (apart from the coolness of it being a railway station) relegate him to the edges of community; he lives in the hidden corridors and background of people’s lives, stealing to eat and having no-one who cares.
And so he pours his care into the last project his father left before he died – the repair of a metal clockwork man – an Automoton. And with this, he encounters folks who at first are opponents, antagonists and potentially downright bad and in exploring words, wisdom and story with them he builds for himself a family. He still grieves the loss of his father by the story’s conclusion, but he embraces it, lives out the love he had for his father and determines not to let the grief hold him back.
It’s not only Hugo who is grieving, but Papa George – the sad figure of George Melies – who mourns his past, mourns the losss and destruction of his dreams. The story, you see, is as much George’s as it is Hugo’s. And looking at the story of George we are shown the power of cinema itself – George Melies being one of the pioneers in the thought that “Moving Pictures” can bring us into the heart of story telling, can show us our dreams on the screen. And when I say dreams I don’t just mean hopes and aspirations, I mean the fantasical conglomerations that fill our minds at night, that make our souls soar, that help us deal with the day to day drudge. His films were fantastical and amazing – portals into the human psyche that lifted their audience above the ordinary, that gave them an opportunity to ride on the wings of imagination – an experience that was almost killed by the real life despair of the Great War. And so George himself leaves his imagination and world of story behind, leaves the life of movie making and becomes a shop owner (though not being able to completely abandon the child within himself he chooses a toyshop). But this leaving behind of his past clearly eats him alive – and this happens to us when we leave behind the things we should hold onto. When we “move on” from things that hurt, that have damaged, that are simply part of the past, we lose a part of ourselves and prove ourselves faithless (slight tangent – when I use the word faithless I don’t mean the opposite of faith, but the opposite of faithfulness.) and leaving our past behind can leave us dead inside – it certainly did in George’s case.
But opening himself up to the boy Hugo reminds him of the beautiful parts of his past – and the boy’s determination to reunite the automoton with its creator (yes, it’s George) reminds the old man that there is still loyalty, dedication and love in the world – and a time and place to dream dreams.
Do not ignore your past, moving on is all very well, but your past is what makes you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – Acknowledge mistakes hurts and pain and embrace them, move on from those parts; but also celebrate your successes, embrace the beautiful portions of your past, embrace loyalty, dedication, stickability.