When this film first came out, I saw it. And understood next to nothing. Boring. Long. Pointless. Incoherent. All the nonsense you'll doubtless read in all of the negative reviews. Of course, the film wasn't the problem; I was. My utter lack of understanding, my own ignorance.
Now, of course, i see it with fresh eyes and the distinct advantage of deeper understanding. And it all makes perfect sense. This isn't a film about some old man at the turn of the last century; or about some boy living in a train station; or about automatons. This is a film about film and filmmaking. What else would Scorsese make this film about? All throughout this film there are "clips", recreations of famous films from the beginning, the foundations, of filmmaking. I still haven't caught on to them all, but at least now I know they are there, in this gorgeous, heartbreakingly beautiful work of art.
I suppose it is quite the ultimate irony -- the meaning and purpose of film. One of the solid truths you learn from Hugo is that film is not literal. Even "documentaries" are not documentaries. The moment an image is captured on film, it departs the realm of the real and enters the world of the dream. ALL films do this. Every one. Even the coldest, most "literal" documentary you can name ultimately becomes a collective human dream. This is what makes people who protest films for one stupid reason or another so pathetic, so ignorant, worse than the lowest worm slithering through the mud. They try (always unsuccessfully) to concretize, to literalize works of art. And it matters not that one person says this work of art is "good" and that one is "bad". These are meaningless terms, which belong to the world of life. While art belongs exclusively to the world of the mind, of dreams. While it is true that all art if valid; it is also true that some art (in my opinion only) is garbage. That doesn't make it any less a work of art. It just might be a very poor work of art. Still, it is art.
This is just one of the many details this film is trying to teach us. You can never judge a work of art based upon your own personal prejudices. That's like judging the taste of a wedding cake based upon the rules of automobile design and construction. The two disciplines are unrelated. The only valid judgement for film is the heart, the state of one's soul. A pure soul, a pure heart, will see the meaning in film, especially THIS film. A corrupt heart and soul will see nothing of value, because the value relates and pertains to the heart, to the soul.
Obviously, I strongly recommend this film. As stated elsewhere, I never give 5 stars to any film other than those that prove themselves to be the very best works of art; that touch the heart and soul in the most profound way; that attain the very pinnacle of perfection. This film, Hugo, more than deserves 5 stars. It is a masterpiece of dream making, as Georges Méliès himself would so rightly have said.