Liturgy and Film- Hugo and the Faith of Advent

For my personalized Liturgy Watchlist I chose a selection of films that I feel reflect the different virtues of the Advent season. Each lit candle symbolizes one of the virtues represented over the four Sundays of Advent, culminating in the Christ Candle as the true and full expression of these virtues embodied in the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day services.

As we move through a time of waiting and anticipating in Advent, each of these virtues brings us closer, with an increasing realization of the lights growing illumination, to the celebration of Christ as the light of the world. With each celebrated and recognized virtue the light grows stronger in the expectant arrival of the Christ Child. Through this journey we find JOY and PEACE as we come to reflect on what it means to HOPE in FAITH, a journey that is as interested in the darkness as it is the light. And as I reflected on in my initial post (see:, faith emerges as the most important virtue in this exercise. Faith is what endures when hope feels all but lost. Without faith in something we remain hopeless, and the truth of what faith is AS a virtue, which is equally so for each of the virtues that we encounter in the season of Advent, is that it arrives as a gift not an acquisition of merit.

Hugo, a 2010 dramatized work by famed Director Martin Scorsese, is intimately interested in this question of merit. It follows a young, now orphaned boy as he finds himself holed up in the confines and hidden mazework of the machinated clocks that help document the time and function of a Paris train station and keep everything moving and on schedule (working like clockwork). Invisible to the public eye, Hugo observes the daily routines and functions of humanity from afar, evoking in him an existential query regarding questions of purpose and meaning, driven primarily around solving this perpetuating mystery around his fathers passing and this odd creation he left behind. At one point we see Hugo gazing over the expansive Paris landscape and wondering about the ways in which this seemingly intricate system of machinated function imposes itself on these greater and evasive ideas of purpose and meaning. Otherwise, he seems to ruminate, where does someone like him fit in this vast world?

This is a boy who knows and has experienced darkness, something we come to know has touched each character in the film in their own way- in war, loss, struggle, unforgiveness. From Hugo’s unique vantage point, Scorsese is able to give us glimpses of what this hopeful young boy sees, inspired not by the mindless routine of peoples coming and going (again, like clockwork) but instead by an intimate awareness of the smaller “human” moments that seem to disrupt and calm its flow.

Which is precisely what Hugo becomes over the course of this film, a disruption of the routine. An imposition into the organized chaos of life.

downloadWhich is precisely what the darkness is imagined to be as well. A disrupter. Only over the course of the film what we come to realize is that what the darkness disrupts is our sense of self reliance, the very thing that opens us up to this desperate and innately driven need of FAITH as the thing that can reorient us towards the light when things feel largely aimless, lost and out of our control. The same faith that can then shine a light into the world at large.

What permeates this discussion of faith is a reoccurring theme of brokenness. A broken situation leads to this broken creation that leads to and awareness of and feelings around Hugo’s own brokenness and the brokenness of others, including the shop owner that he comes into contact with over the course of this film. Interestingly, what initially unfolds within this relationship between Hugo and the shop owner is this idea of debts incurred and debts paid, a matter of merit. This is what the darkness submits us towards and enslaves us to. And yet it is by entering into this relationship and uncovering its mystery that true freedom, redemption and purpose is found. And the beauty of this picture, imagined in this grand intertwining of creator and artist, young boy and family lost and family gained, is that it is in our brokenness that we are being made whole.

downloadThis is what the light does. This is what Christmas celebrates. As we stand looking out over the world with our own existential questions and our own awareness of the darkness in mind, we are able to frame (or reframe) our place in the world not according to our weakness or our strength, but according to the idea that in our weakness we are a part of a grander story.

It’s no secret that Scorsese wrote Hugo with an understanding of his own life as an artist, and what he seems to be reflecting on here is the idea that in art, in our finite creations, hope and faith in something bigger than ourselves and our own brokenness is being expressed. Something with eternal and life shaping, or light shaping, power.

In Advent we recognize this power in a God who chose to enter into the human story rather than stand above or removed from it. The God-Human story is one built on our relationship to the one who gives us life and the world into which His light persists. God created, and called us to participate according to our own creative intuitions, each according to our experiences, stories and inspirations. What breathes life into these creations though is the light that guides it, forms it, shapes it and gifts it with a necessary and enduring faith. And it is towards the light that the darkness points.

As we await the coming Christ Child over the Advent season, the second candle awakens us to the reality that Christ is the light of the world, the one in whom we find our purpose. Christ is the one whom shines in the darkness and that the darkness hopes for in faithful precision. Christ is the one to whom we find healing and worth in our most broken of places. Christ is the true gift of faith.

As Christ awakens us to the darkness, may He also gift us with the faith that endures as we continue to reorient ourselves towards the hoped for light.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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