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Theme: The Road Home

A Similar Story

Set in different centuries two of this years Oscar nominated films for Best Picture are remarkably similar in overall plot and theme. Hugo Martin Scorsese's beautifully filmed story of an orphan set in early 20th century Paris and the 9/11 tear jerker Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close set in 21st century New York are different in time and place, yet at the heart of each film lies the same story: A beloved son separated from his father by a fiery death sets out on a heroic journey that takes him out of his tower of isolation and fear and ultimately leads him to healing, and restoration in a new community. 


Both boys lose their father through fiery death.

Both are imprisoned in towers of fear and isolation.

Both are looking for their father's message; one has a lock, one a key.

Both go on a Hero's Journey.

Both end up restoring two men; one older, one younger.

Both of the older men are broken by war.

Both the boys are "apprentices" to their father.

Both have help from a female.

Both stories are set after a war in a world of ashes.

Both boys know their father loved them.

Both sacrifice their treasure (lock/key) for someone else.

Both receive a message from their father.

Both end up being transformed and transforming others.

Both are healed and set free from fear and isolation.

Both end up finding a community of people.



The opening scenes of Martin Scorsese's Hugo are beautiful and poignant. They are cosmic in scope dealing with universal themes: creation and design, life and death, love and loss, beauty and affliction. They open with huge mechanical clockworks that turn into the "City of Lights", and then zero in on the Paris train station and its clock tower. A rapid descent from the macrocosm of the universe down to a single boy caught in the clock tower looking out on a wintry night to other people caught in their own towers of isolation.  

A man sits alone in his windup toy booth; the pupil of his eye reflecting the clock, he is as mechanical inside as the windup mouse he sets out as a trap for the boy. The trap works; he catches the boy in his thievery and forces him to surrender his most treasured possession, his father's notebook. This is no sentimental keepsake. The notebook is his life, his chance, his hope, his passport. It is the instruction book of how to fix a mechanical man. The boy does not realize the man that just took it and threatened to burn it is the broken machine that needs fixing. So begins the movie Hugo.      


Hugo did not always live in the clock tower nor was he always alone. After a failed attempt to retrieve his notebook he returns to the tower and uncovers an automaton (mechanical man). Sitting before it he is engulfed in memories of another time, another world.                                   

He was the beloved son of his father the clockmaker; the creator, inventor, fixer of all complicated and intricate works. After discovering a rusted complex "writing" automaton in the museum's attic, the father-son team set out to restore it together. This beautiful relationship ends abruptly when the father is killed in the museum fire. Hugo's alcoholic uncle comes to retrieve him and gruffly announces "your father is dead, get your things". The fall is so sudden, so unexpected. Death and separation from the father plunge Hugo into a world he's never known; becoming an orphan means no school, no provision, and apprenticeship to an uncle that is really slavery, imprisonment in a tower of isolation, hiding and fear, a forgotten world where time is everything


Losing the notebook is actually a call to adventure for it forces Hugo to cross the threshold and step out of his ordinary world of the tower and into the special world outside. It forces him out of isolation and into relationship.

Hugo finds an ally and friend in Isabelle, the adopted daughter of Georges Méliès, the man who confiscated Hugo's notebook. Together they embark on a heroic journey to discover the mystery of the automaton and its heart shaped key.

After many tests, trials and an ordeal, Isabelle's friendship and Hugo's sacrificial love end up restoring the automaton to its rightful owner and solving the mystery of its message.


The Road Back ultimately leads Hugo to a resurrected life in a new family, a new home and a new community.  In following in his father's footsteps he not only fixed a broken machine, he fixed a broken man and together they were able to restore the broken parts of an entire community.

 Note 1:  The Hero's Journey sometimes called the Hero Myth or Monomyth is a universal pattern recurring in all cultures at all times. The twelve stages adapted here are from The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler:


  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Test, Allies, and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • The Ordeal
  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir
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