Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is one of the great pinnacles of the Classical Hollywood film, with its undeniably-seamless storytelling and use of motifs. It makes great use of its distinctive form and tone, serving as a strong statement of social-economic commentary while presenting simultaneously a satiric perspective on as well as a criticism of industrial society during The Great Depression.
Through Chaplin’s character, the film almost glorifies – albeit subtly – the trials and tribulations of the poor during this historic period that is plagued with strikes and widespread poverty; he symbolizes, throughout the film, the persevering optimism of America’s underdogs. Also, the heavy, daunting industrialized machinery of the factory symbolizes the physical and psychological/mental weight of the Great Depression that takes a toll on many, while the constant oppression of the law and the police (as Chaplin’s character is repeatedly sent back to jail) represents the side of the Great Depression that irrevocably suppresses the freedom and happiness of the masses rather than liberating and supporting them, as they are supposed to. The tedious, repetitive nature of the industrial machinery also illuminates Chaplin’s insinuated idea that society is cruelly molding man and industry into one; this reduces the value of the human core, which consists of life, emotion, etc. Underneath all of its layers, the film is an exploration as well as a statement concerning the human condition and its victorious moments as well as defeats in the face of the Great Depression.
Chaplin’s naturally light-hearted and happy demeanor, his purity of heart, and his good will saturate the entire film with a tone of idealism and hope, making the comedic identity of the film much more vibrant. The orchestral soundtrack also helps to magnify this, as the music most oftentimes reflects the dispositions of the corresponding characters and the action of the narrative sequences.
The young, vivacious orphan woman eventually (and inevitably) meets Chaplin’s character, and they become partners in crime. Throughout the film, I found the dynamic between the couple very endearing; the way Chaplin’s character looks at her and smiles at her was so pure and genuine, especially when he curiously and admiringly addressed her newly-bought attire. The couple incites an emotional response within the audience, consistently, as we identify with their struggles and their emotions.
Ultimately, the bittersweet, open-ended last scene of the film – when Chaplin’s character and his girl walk away together – conveys an optimistic, heartening note of finality and emphasizes the unlikely yet enduring strength of the main characters despite their misfortunes during a time of social and economic oppression.