Modern Times

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.

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3 thoughts on “Modern Times

  1. Your view that Chaplin’s character could be seen as a symbol oh hope is something that I brought up a few times mentally but never consolidated the idea. But since you say that his own personality created the feelings of hope and idealism, I must add that the characters looks can be seen to also apply to those ideals. For instance, Chaplin and the Woman, I found, always stood out from the crowd and scenery. They break free from the monotony of society – or the blending of man and machine as you said – and fulfill society’s missing freedom and happiness. Although I feel that the feelings of hope do not appear until the couple become one. The whole is greater than the sum, I suppose.

  2. I also thought the ending was bittersweet, just as I mentioned in class, I felt that Modern times did not tie the story completely together, but it left me satisfied. Chaplin in this film is seen as the beacon of hope no matter the struggles he endures he never gave up on himself or on his woman. The comment that we discussed in class about the women in the role of Keaton and Chaplin’s films was very intriguing. The fact is that in Keaton’s movies he has to try very hard and endure much stress in order to get the women of his dreams which was evident in Sherlock Jr. and in another Buster Keaton film I have seen (The General), while in Chaplin’s Modern Times the woman was always there for him they instantly connected and trusted him there on out. Keaton’s films are a narrative to prove himself and his worthiness to the audience and to the women in the picture.

  3. I agree with your thoughts that Modern Times is a satire on the toil of industrial society during the Great Depression as well as an example of how this kind of industry depletes the human condition. This industrial system is set up so that the workers are nothing more than drones, interchangeable from one another, and simply serve as cogs in the machine. If the movie did not center on the Tramp but on one of his co-workers, we would likely not even notice the Tramp — he would simply be another part of the working body.
    The movie displays the job as a 1920s factory worker as one that depletes the human condition, and Chaplin hits the nail on the head when putting it on display. What makes the movie so special is that the undeniably perseverant Tramp can see the light and never give up, even if the machines are threatening to destroy his humanity.

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