Chaplin shrewdly constructs the form of Modern Times to ironically present a lighthearted, comedic narrative about serious topics.
Modern Times remains faithful to several of the conventions of slapstick comedy, a genre that Chaplin mastered. The film constantly presents pain or injury without serious consequence—the Tramp is constantly getting bashed and smacked by humans as well as inanimate objects, but is never truly hurt. Another convention of slapstick comedy that the film presents is that of impossible situations (i.e. the Tramp getting moved around by the cogs of the machine after falling in, yet never getting seriously injured, although an accident like that would likely result in death in real life). The film presents inconceivable situations, yet we accept them, because that is what we expect from a slapstick comedy film.
Speaking of expectations: throughout the film, we expect the Tramp to fail, get back up, and try again. And this expectation is always satisfied. The Tramp is always toiling away at some objective—whether to finish his shift in the assembly line or get a steady job in order to provide for his love interest—and he always seems to fail. We also expect him to move on to his next mission after failing his previous one, and he certainly always does. This idea is culminated in the Tramp’s final line of the film: “Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along!” We always expect the perseverant Tramp to get back up again and keep moving on.
Lastly, the film’s form creates several meanings. The working conditions of the Tramp and his co-workers in the assembly line at the beginning of the film offers a referential meaning in that the working conditions for factory workers during this time period in World History were not great. An explicit meaning offered by the film is, as the last line says (and culminated by the Tramp himself), to be strong and to never stop trying. The implicit meaning is that society during this time is not at an acceptable place when it comes to working conditions and overall quality of life, and that change (or more extremely, revolution) is imminent. And this gives way to the symptomatic meanings offered in the film, which are largely the societal ideals of communism (a workers’ revolt, unification of the lower class, etc.).