Yesterday, this migraine put me to the couch, and I spent the day grateful for Netflix here in the farmhouse. Mid-day I watched a marathon of Extreme Couponers because, well, it makes good white noise for a nap. But my favorite viewing of the day was the great film Hugo.
I think some people might say the film is “steam punk” with all the clockworks and gears and great outfits. . . and maybe it is, but for me, it was the perfect version of a fairy tale. The story was simple and beautiful with just a bit of the real life magic that makes us all know there’s more than we see.
Mostly, I let myself slip into the story, but I did notice three things in the film that applied to writing.
1. There is great storytelling to be made from watching. As Hugo sits in the clock tower, he sees all drama and romance and sadness of the station. He doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t manipulate them. He just sees them. In a culture that seems to encourage our involvement in everyone’s stories, I was reminded that as a writer (and a person) sometimes the best thing I can do is simply to bear witness to them.
2. Setting is crucial. This film takes place in early 20th century France, specially in the train station there. But the director and cinematographer used muted colors and diffused light to portray the mostly real-life setting as a more magical, special place. In my essays and books, I am challenged to do the same – to create a place that not only is truthful but also true to the story I want to tell. So that means I need to focus on certain details, sounds, colors, and tastes to pull my version of that place to life for the reader.
3. Singularity of purpose is crucial, but so are open eyes. When Hugo sees Papa George drop the mouse, he immediately wants to fix it because that is what he does. He fixes things. But if Hugo had stayed focus on only that task and on the automaton, well, he would have missed out on so much more. . . The same is true of writing and the writer’s life, I think. We can get too busy trying to do more, particularly in regards to promoting our work, that we lose our singleness of purpose. Yet, we also must keep our eyes open for new ways to live into that purpose – maybe it’s a new turn in our story or a new opportunity to use our words. Focus and a wide view . . . that’s what I take from Hugo.
Have you seen the film? Did it remind you of anything about writing or art or life?