Modern Times Week 3 Blog Assignment

Essentially, the most powerful image portrayed in Chaplin’s Modern Times is that of the black sheep. Upon seeing the lone black sheep in a flock of white sheep, the audience somewhat expects the black sheep to be Chaplin himself due to his recurring “tramp” persona in his other works. In Modern Times, however, the black sheep takes greater significance as the plot takes place during the Great Depression. This harsh time in American history gives referential meaning of struggle and adversity to the plot. Along with the audience’s expectation that Chaplin’s films consist of lighthearted humor, Modern Times displays its own unique commentary on the period.

In Modern Times, Chaplin as the black sheep represents the struggle of surviving in the Great Depression, a time in which many working people had to adapt to working in machine crazed factories and not truly knowing where their next paycheck would come from. In terms of Chaplin’s life, this motif also serves as a metaphor to his career as how he had to adapt to the onset of films with sound and the end of the silent film era. Released almost a decade after the introduction of sound to film, Chaplin’s last tribute to silent film begs the simple notion of acclimate or die through the film’s recurring plot patterns. Ultimately, he’s the last great silent film artist.

As the story progresses, we see Chaplin trying to acclimate a considerable amount of times to the new role he has during the Great Depression. Each time he attempts to adapt, however, he fails. In one particular scene, Chaplin sits comfortably in his newly furnished prison cell after getting on the warden’s good side. Continuing with the pattern, it is only a matter of time before Chaplin loses his favorable situation and must adapt yet again when he is pardoned and released into the working world. The viewer can deeply interpret this particular scene as the true metaphor and parallel to Chaplin’s life. At the height of the Silent Film era, he stands at a comfortable situation (his lavish cell). However, he must quickly adapt to the dawn of film with sound (the pardon) and accept his new world.

The black sheep motif represents Chaplin’s iconic individuality as an artist. Although he never truly adapts, expecting Chaplin to always have a happy ending, the audience is satisfied as Chaplin finds his own black sheep and his own set of values in the form of his lovely female friend. He leaves the viewer with a strong message: If you can’t adapt, fight on!

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2 thoughts on “Modern Times Week 3 Blog Assignment

  1. I found it really funny that you thought the most powerful image in the movie was the black sheep because I didn’t even know the opening scene had a black sheep in it… I had to re-watch the scene in order to understand what you were talking about. Sure enough, there is one! The low-quality, black-and-white picture makes it really hard to see, but there is a black sheep there! So, that’s interesting. I think that’s a really cool point, and I wish I had thought of it.

    I love that you tried to make the connection between the film’s plot and the current (at the time) goings-on of Chaplin’s career, and I agree with it mostly, but I disagree that the plot had anything at all to do with adaptation or acclimation. He did take and fail at many jobs, but I don’t think he actually tried to do a good job at them, nor did he try to alter his methods to do better the next time. He was clearly unfit for actual labor and completely unwilling to do actual hard labor (as evidenced by his constant goofing off) and was better off doing something creative to make money, which makes sense when the only job he was actually good at was the singing job. So, instead of acclimating and becoming a better laborer, he found a new niche and excelled. I think the message is “persevere,” not “acclimate or die.”

    A lot of people have referred to Chaplin’s lady friend as a black sheep, so I want to comment and say that I personally don’t think his female friend was a black sheep at all. I thought she fit into society quite well. She was poor, homeless, out of work, and hungry, which I think described pretty much everyone else at the time. And unlike Chaplin, she wasn’t a troublemaker or an utter failure. She was as white of a sheep as one can be.

  2. You mentioning the black sheep is very interesting. I did not notice it either and that was what confused me to begin with. It seems like movies like Modern Times requires multiple watchings to understand all the symbolism that occurs.

    Chaplin plays a character that seems thrown into situations he doesn’t belong. He is a black sheep, moving through the crowd of white sheep. I agree with the previous comment of saying that the girl was indeed fitting in with most of the people during the time of the film. Chaplin is positive no matter what happens to him and seems to experience and go through the most bizarre events. Through all this, he is able to stay happy and not once was he without a smile. She on the other hand seem so vulnerable and realistic. This adds depth to the film that was crucial even in what seems to be a light comedy.

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